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A group of local activists (and occasional bystanders) joined in song to sing anti-Downtown Berkeley Association Christmas carols in the BART Plaza in an effort to bring awareness to the privatization of public space on Sunday, December 16th, 2012.
Ted Friedman
A group of local activists (and occasional bystanders) joined in song to sing anti-Downtown Berkeley Association Christmas carols in the BART Plaza in an effort to bring awareness to the privatization of public space on Sunday, December 16th, 2012.


New: Body Found In Water Near Oakland Marina Identified as Berkeley Man

By Zack Farmer (BCN)
Monday December 31, 2012 - 06:26:00 PM

The body of a man found near the Oakland Marina at Jack London Square on Saturday has been identified as Richard Rice, 59, of Berkeley, according to the Alameda County coroner's bureau.

Police received a call at 9:06 a.m. of a possible body in the water near the marina. When officers and medical personnel arrived, they found Rice's body, police said. 

He was pronounced dead at the scene. 

The cause of Rice's death has yet to be determined, according to police. . Anyone with information is encouraged to call Oakland police at (510) 238-3821.

New: Governor Brown Appoints Two Berkeley Attorneys to Superior Court

Friday December 28, 2012 - 08:23:00 AM

Gov. Jerry Brown today announced the appointments of six new judges to fill vacancies on Bay Area superior courts.

Oakland-based attorney Kimberly Colwell, a Berkeley resident, and public-interest lawyer Brad Seligman, also of Berkeley, were named to serve with Alameda County Superior Court.

Seligman, 61, is the founder and former executive director of the Berkeley-based Impact Fund, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in economic-justice class-action lawsuits.

The fund led what would have been the nation's largest class-action job discrimination lawsuit, in a federal case filed against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on behalf of 1.5 million present and former women workers. 

Although the Supreme Court ruled last year that the case could not proceed as a nationwide lawsuit, the fund is now pursuing regional lawsuits, including one pending in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of female Wal-Mart employees in California. 

Before founding the Impact Fund in 1992, Seligman worked for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley. 

Colwell, 54, of Berkeley, is litigation manager at the Meyers Nave Riback Silver and Wilson law firm in Oakland. She has specialized in representing cities, counties and other local government entities.  

Colwell was part of a team hired by BART to conduct a confidential internal investigation into the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle on New Year's Day 2009. 

Both Colwell and Seligman earned their law degrees from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. 

Napa County Deputy Public Defender Elia Ortiz, 39, was appointed by Brown to Napa County Superior Court. Ortiz, a resident of the city of Napa, obtained her law degree from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.  

Labor law attorney Mark Talamantes was named to Marin County Superior Court. The 46-year-old Tiburon resident is the founder and managing partner of Talamantes Villegas Carrera, a San Francisco law firm that represents California workers in employment matters. 

A Texas native who studied at Hastings College of the Law, Talamantes established the law firm in 1999. 

Brown appointed criminal defense lawyer Brendan Conroy and Assistant San Francisco District Attorney Braden Woods to San Francisco Superior Court.  

Before establishing a private criminal defense law practice in 1992, Conroy, 56, of San Francisco, served in the San Francisco and Los Angeles county public defenders' offices. He graduated from Hastings College of the Law.  

Woods, 46, of San Francisco, joined the San Francisco district attorney's office in 1996 and became chief of its criminal division last year.  

He previously worked for the Kern County District Attorney's Office. Woods earned his law degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law.  

All six of the new judges are Democrats. The trial court judgeships have an annual salary of $178,789.

Isolation, Displacement and Disenfranchisement—What Berkeley Misses (Personal Essay)

By Thomas Lord
Wednesday December 19, 2012 - 07:52:00 AM

I live in Berkeley, California. Yes, that Berkeley. I have long hair. I don't often wear tie-dye t-shirts anymore but I think I still own some. I think everyone who lives in my apartment building is college educated or close to it. The public schools are said to be pretty good. There is a very large, very well maintained public park nearby and kids' leagues from surrounding cities come to make use of the two well groomed baseball diamonds. (The tennis courts, tot playground, community center, picnic areas, recently resurfaced basketball courts and unofficial but tolerated off-hours dog park are also very popular.) Our City Council on Tuesday took up a resolution against allowing civilian or law enforcement drones here—an item put forth by the "Peace and Justice" council-appointed citizen's commission. That commission is one of many citizen commissions that operate with funded support from city staff and help to create and shape local public policy. While my block and neighborhood are high on the list of poorest, relative to the rest of the city, the city as a whole is very affluent. By population I think we are about 4 times larger than Newtown and by land area we are almost 6 times smaller. One of the most bitter battles in the recent election was a narrowly decided zoning issue regarding our light industrial zone (and its possible up-zoning). 

I live right next to one of the murder capitals in the US., Oakland California. I can walk a few blocks to a famous "gang injunction" area — a court-ordered stay-away zone and do-not-associate-with-one-another zone for a bunch of named gang members. A few months ago a fellow was murdered (outside the zone) about 2.5 blocks from here (in Berkeley) near the corner store and next to the community's non-profit organic nursery. Rumor had it that that was a case of mistaken identity. A couple of years ago I covered, for a local news outlet, a murder even closer than that. I got to that crime scene early on in the event because I had my window open and heard the multiple-10s of shots, in well under a minute, with only perhaps two or three shooters, using weapons that would not be prohibited by Diane Feinstein's bill. There was a teen there at the scene who acted kind of weird around me once I was recognized to be press and, I'm not sure it's the same guy, but I think he was the kid killed a few weeks later in a shooting that the police decided was an accident. I can give you a rough idea of where, nearby, you can buy a few hours alone in a motel room with an adolescent child, if you are so inclined. 

What remains of the local press is increasingly afraid to venture into Oakland because a resale market exists for high-end cameras and video cameras such as the one that was recently stolen from a TV news station during a live broadcast from a public high school. "Someone is going to get shot and the funeral won't be mine," said one photojournalist to explain why he was refusing to go cover any more stories in Oakland where, in fact, people get shot all the time. Generally speaking the Oakland police department no longer responds to or investigates home burglaries and the like, although they maintain a web site where you can file a police report for insurance purposes. Indeed, in Oakland the son of Willie Brown (former mayor of San Francisco and former state assembly speaker) came home to observe burglars in his home — who took their time finishing the job and leaving well before the police sent a squad car to take the report. I have neighbors whose main response to this kind of thing is to try to engage in collective punishment, suing and harassing black families and businesses out of town. Did I mention that the Oakland police department has recently been put under the control of a federal-court-appointed official because of its repeated failures to correct its tendency to act like just another street gang, shaking down and beating up and murdering and such? 

Again: I'm talking about Berkeley and the Bay Area. You know, "The Graduate", vegan food, Chez Panisse, and Silicon Valley. Some of you have probably been here on business and had very nice meals and some good wine. Perhaps you caught some theater or took a drive along the coast. 

Berkeley is increasingly awash in (mostly white) economically displaced young people — many of whom aged out of foster care and were dumped off on the street. Word is that the whole coast is lit up with this growing demographic of very angry, permanently displaced young people — many quite smart and not especially crazy — who simply no longer believe in the legitimacy of government or straight society. They don't see many ways to live without enduring the gratuitous violence of the more privileged and they're increasingly consciousness-raised about that. The town's swells are trying hard to harass and legislate them out of town — so we'll look more like Palo Alto, I guess, in spite of having little in common besides the dual presences of a lot of money and an institution with "University" as part of its name. 

I've been directly engaged in two mental health crises right on my street. One was an impoverished single mom who the community could no longer prop up to get past her episodes of standing and shouting out to Jesus for hours on end. I only knew one of her boys... perhaps 6 or so ... from holding his head in my lap while he hoped to avoid another beating. I wound up praising and encouraging his late developing ability to add numbers less than 10 together. He was keen to show them off. He'd seen something like it in school, I gathered. He illustrated his reasoning with some rocks off the ground. In another case there was the 30-something woman, nearly catatonic most of the time, kept as a latchkey child by a mother who knew all too well what the public options were. When her mother's care faltered, and the disabled woman spent months living in a feces-filled apartment, roaming the street from time to time in her feces-covered clothes, dropping weight to the point she looked on death's door —- when that happened it took all of those months from the first sign of trouble for me to coordinate the public agencies enough that they felt they could legally act. 

I have great respect for how badly the Newtown tragedy makes everyone, including me, feel. It is a struggle — and I do try — to have any respect at all for the kind of "gun control!" or "more gov't spending on mental health!" responses and rhetoric. I want to say, frankly, those responses come from a perspective that is not situationally aware. It is a harsh thought but I keep coming back to my perception that economic and racial and gender privilege — combined with the specific technological and cultural organization of our time — has left so many of us without a freaking clue about what the state of the world is. It's so easy to isolate ourselves. To go live in a nice neighborhood. To maintain the illusion of worldliness by developing a keen familiarity with the airport corridors and fine hotels and restaurants of major cities around the world. To eat from menus that vaguely refer to what used to be a practical diet, and call it rustic. To support (passively or actively) the school district that wants to drive out the problematic kid (as in this Newtown case). To feebly entrust to Diane Feinstein our political response to a tragedy. To throw more money at mental health agencies on the assumption its their job to make the problems just magically disappear. It's just rent on our personal islands, right? 

The powerful in this country — and relatively speaking that's us — treat all this dysfunction as an inconvenience. We look to government or mental health institutions or institutions of education to please just go ahead and implement some policies and make all these displaced, angry, violent, dead-ended, rejected, ostracized people disappear from sight. When, as in Newtown, white privileged society, with its predilection for exclusions and expulsions starts manufacturing maniacs of its own the liberals can't decide if its better to step up the elitism with gun regulations or state-operated mental health regulations but either way the gist is the same: to try to answer the symptoms of isolation, displacement, and disenfranchisement by making the barriers of exclusion harsher. Hey, maybe it's not just an outrageous distribution of income disparity we suffer in this country but an outrageous distribution of attention and community.

California Democrats in Congress Ignore Platform Call to Cut Military Spending (Opinion)

By Nicholas Carlin
Wednesday December 19, 2012 - 07:46:00 AM

Why are Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein and the entire California congressional delegation ignoring the mandate of their own party to cut the military budget by at least 25%? 

The 2012 California Platform, adopted at the party's convention in April, calls for reducing the grossly bloated military budget by "at least 25%". This is fully in line with historical precedent: the United States has cut its military expenditures by about 30 percent at the end of major conflicts. (President Eisenhower cut defense spending by 27 percent after the end of the Korean War; President Nixon reduced the budget by 29 percent as we withdrew from Vietnam, and Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton combined to cut military spending by more than 35 percent as the Cold War came to a close.)

The 25% cuts called for by California Democrats would be from $200-250B/year—more than enough to provide the targeted amount of budget cuts. Yet the only spending cuts we hear about in these fiscal cliff talks is Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements.

Why are Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic congressional delegation not talking about this? Why are they not moving to implement this policy directive of their own party? By failing to advocate for this platform directive, or even mention it, Pelosi and the other Democratic lawmakers are betraying their constituents, and doing a grave disservice to their country. 

Nicholas Carlin is a partner with Phillips, Erlewine & Given, a San Francisco law firm. He was a member of the 2012 California Democratic Party Platform Committee and Chair of the National Security Plank.

Putting the Hammer Down on Guns (News Analysis)

By Gar Smith
Tuesday December 18, 2012 - 12:46:00 PM

"Today is not the day for a debate on gun control."

-- Presidential Spokesman Jay Carney

Note to Jay Carney: "If not now, when?"

Twenty children, ages 5 to 10, are mercilessly gunned down in the protected sanctuary of their Connecticut schoolroom and this does not call for a public debate? Is the US Gun Lobby really so powerful that the White House spokesperson feels his first duty is to call for a ban on public debate -- instead of a ban on the very weapons that created this tragedy?

We should move to ban the ownership of military assault rifles and other high-powered weapons of mass destruction. These weapons are unsuitable for recreational target practice or hunting. They are clearly unsuited for the urban environment. Congress has already acted to outlaw the ownership of machineguns and banned the possession of bazookas.
This leaves the question of handguns. In searching for solutions to the risks of concealed weapons and Saturday Night Specials, we needn't raise the troublesome debate over Second Amendment "rights" to own a handgun. There are many things we can do, short of a ban on handguns and none of these approaches would violate the most reactionary interpretations of the Second Amendment. 

Without banning ownership of handguns, per se, here are some actions we could take to rein in the rising tide of gun violence that is flooding our nation. 

A Licensing Fee for Victims Compensation 

States and municipalities could create a new licensing fee for gun-store owners and gun dealers. The money raised would be used to create a fund to compensate the victims of gun violence. 

All dealers would need to contribute to this fund in order to do business. The fund could be a state or federal trust fund or, alternatively, state and federal laws could require gun-dealers to take out impact-specific insurance from an approved insurance firm. 

The amount in the state/federal fund would be adjusted each year, depending on the level of lethal gun violence. If the number of gun deaths declined, the cost of the subsequent year's insurance would also decline. This would give weapons merchants a financial stake in reducing incidents of illegal gun use. (There is precedent for this approach. As a consequence of BP's role in polluting the Gulf of Mexico, insurance costs for all oil companies rose “exponentially.” This served to send a message to the entire industry that endangering lives and livelihoods could entail painful financial penalties.) 


Mandatory Gun Sellers' Insurance 

The oil and gas industry routinely obtains comprehensive insurance protection to cover a wide range of external liabilities -- including damage to the environment (from oil spills and gas explosions) and payments for death, injuries and disabilities suffered by workers and civilians harmed by the companies' activities. (In one recent case, on October 24, 2012, a jury in West Texas awarded $11 million to a man who sued an oil company after he was struck by a pipe casing that broke free of an oilfield elevator.) 

BP and its Deepwater Horizon drilling partners were required to have insurance coverage to pay for damages and compensate victims in the event of a drilling accident. (Coverage that proved inadequate to address the magnitude of the disaster.) By contrast, current insurance packages offered to the US gun industry mainly cover damage to the business owners' property and workplace accidents. Unlike insurance for the oil and gas industry, the gun-dealers' policies do not extend to such "externalities" as the death and injury caused by the use of the gun-sellers' products. 

BP's Gulf of Mexico explosion and oil spill killed 11 rig workers and devastated the livelihoods of millions of Gulf Coast shrimpers and business owners. Why then, should the US domestic arms industry be exempt from similar insurance requirements -- especially given the larger death toll routinely caused by the misuse of firearns? 

The FBI reports that guns killed 8,775 Americans in 2010. The previous year was even deadlier. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2009, guns accounted for 11,493 US deaths. But these figures only include homicides. In 2009, guns also accounted for 18,735 suicides -- nearly half of all US suicides. Combining suicides and homicides brings the total estimated number of gun-related deaths in 2009 to 31,228, making gun deaths the second leading cause of non-disease-related mortality in the US -- second only to accidental deaths. 

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP set aside $9.5 billion to establish a trust to pay claims for damages. By July 2011, the fund had paid $4.7 billion to 198,475 claimants. Given the scale of death and damage that results from the daily operations of the US gun industry, the argument for requiring similar insurance coverage becomes compelling. 

The Individual Gun Seller's Accountability 

Responsibility for gun carnage does not end at the factory. It also extends to the point-of-purchase. Gun store owners are the "gatekeepers" when it comes to protecting the public from people who feel they must acquire guns for "self-protection" against other members of the public. 

When a gun used in a crime can be traced to a particular store (even if the weapon has been subsequently sold, given away or stolen), the identity of that store and its location – as well as the make of the weapon and the name of the manufacturer – should be made part of the official police report so this information can be included in all media reports on the crime and its aftermath. 

In those cases where the individual who commits a gun crime is the same individual who purchased the weapon, the gun dealer or storeowner responsible for the sale should be subjected to a thorough investigation to determine if the merchant exercised a proper regard for downstream risks before authorizing the sale. 

If an investigation determines that the purchase should have been denied because the customer had a significant criminal record, had relevant medical, mental or emotional problems, had been subject to a restraining order, or had recently experienced significant stress or personal trauma – e.g., the loss of a home, a bitter divorce, the loss of a job – the individual seller could be found criminally responsible. 

In such cases, the costs for compensating the victims would be born first by the seller, rather than covered by the industry's collective trust fund, insurance plan or state/federal licensing fees. This would give the gun industry a financial stake in cracking down on gun shops and independent dealers that engaged in reckless sales practices that endanger the public. 

Similar restrictions should be imposed on the sale of ammunition. There should be rigorous background checks and limits on the amount of ammunition one can legally purchase as possess. 

James Holmes, the deranged student who stands accused of opened fire in a crowded Colorado movie theater -- killing 12 and wounding 58 -- was able to assemble an arsenal of weapons without undergoing any serious background checks prior to purchase. 

Despite the Department of Homeland Security's massive budget and growing domestic surveillance infrastructure, the DHS remained totally in the dark about Mr. Holmes, a diagnosed schizophrenia who was methodically amassing a 6,000-round arsenal by ordering bullets over the Internet. 

While the FBI busied itself setting up "sting" operations to entrap would-be jihadists (by providing encouragement, training and fake explosives), Holmes' activities went completely unnoticed -- even though surveillance videos at one point captured him unloading 150-pound boxes of ammunition -- delivered courtesy of FedEx and UPS. Clearly, another fundamental reform should require new restrictions on laws regulating the sale of ammunition. 

There are clear steps that can be taken to draw down the threat of weapons violence in the country. The US has allowed itself to become the most heavily armed country on Earth. For the sake of those children in Sandy Hook, we need to face our demons and start insisting on more responsible gun controls and regulations. It was clear from President Obama's emotional address to the nation that he has heard the message – even if his Presidential spokesperson has not. 

Some of the Deadliest Mass Shootings around World 

(from The Associated Press) 

(December 14, 2012) -- A gunman at a Connecticut elementary school killed more than two dozen people, including children, on Friday. It is among the world's worst mass shootings. Here is a look at some others: 

— Aug. 5, 2012: Army veteran Wade Michael Page kills five men and one woman and wounds three other people, including a police officer, before taking his own life at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin outside Milwaukee. 

— July 20, 2012: Twelve people are killed when a gunman enters an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, releases a canister of gas and then opens fire during opening night of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises." James Holmes, a 24-year-old former graduate student at the University of Colorado, has been charged in the deaths. 

— March 11, 2012: Sixteen Afghan villagers, including nine children, are killed during a predawn attack in which Army prosecutors have charged Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 39. 

— July 22, 2011: Confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik kills 77 in Norway in twin attacks: a bombing in downtown Oslo and a shooting massacre at a youth camp outside the capital. The self-styled anti-Muslim militant admitted both attacks. 

— Jan. 8, 2011: A gunman kills six people and wounds 13 others, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in a shooting spree outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. Doctors say Jared Lee Loughner, who has been sentenced to life in prison, suffers from schizophrenia. 

— Nov. 5, 2009: Thirteen soldiers and civilians were killed and more than two dozen wounded when a gunman walked into the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood, Texas, and opened fire. Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. 

— April 30, 2009: Farda Gadyrov, 29, enters the prestigious Azerbaijan State Oil Academy in the capital, Baku, armed with an automatic pistol and clips. He kills 12 people before killing himself as police close in. 

— April 3, 2009: A 41-year-old man opened fire at an immigrant community center in Binghamton, N.Y., killing 11 immigrants and two workers. Jiverly Wong, a Vietnamese immigrant and a former student at the center, killed himself as police rushed to the scene. 

— March 10, 2009: Michael McLendon, 28, killed 10 people — including his mother, four other relatives, and the wife and child of a local sheriff's deputy — across two rural Alabama counties. He then killed himself. 

— Sept. 23, 2008: Matti Saari, 22, walks into a vocational college in Kauhajoki, Finland, and opens fire, killing 10 people and burning their bodies with firebombs before shooting himself fatally in the head. 

— Nov. 7, 2007: After revealing plans for his attack in YouTube postings, 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen fires kills eight people at his high school in Tuusula, Finland. 

— April 16, 2007: Seung-Hui Cho, 23, kills 32 people and himself on Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va. 

— April 26, 2002: Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, who had been expelled from school in Erfurt, Germany, kills 13 teachers, two former classmates and policeman, before committing suicide. 

— April 20, 1999: Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves in the school's library. 

— April 28, 1996: Martin Bryant, 29, bursts into cafeteria in seaside resort of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia, shooting 20 people to death. Driving away, he kills 15 others. He was captured and imprisoned. 

— March 13, 1996: Thomas Hamilton, 43, kills 16 kindergarten children and their teacher in elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and then kills himself. 

— Oct. 16, 1991: A deadly shooting rampage took place in Killeen, Texas, as George Hennard opened fire at a Luby's Cafeteria, killing 23 people before taking his own life. 20 others were wounded in the attack. 

— June 18, 1990: James Edward Pough shoots people at random in a General Motors Acceptance Corp. office in Jacksonville, Fla., killing 10 and wounding four, before killing himself. 

— Dec. 6, 1989: Marc Lepine, 25, bursts into Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique college, shooting at women he encounters, killing nine and then himself. 

— Aug. 19, 1987: Michael Ryan, 27, kills 16 people in small market town of Hungerford, England, and then shoots himself dead after being cornered by police. 

— July 12, 1976: Edward Charles Allaway, a custodian in the library of California State University, Fullerton, fatally shot seven fellow employees and wounded two others. 

— Aug. 20, 1986: Pat Sherrill, 44, a postal worker who was about to be fired, shoots 14 people at a post office in Edmond, Okla. He then kills himself. 

— July 18, 1984: James Oliver Huberty, an out-of-work security guard, kills 21 people in a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif. A police sharpshooter kills Huberty. 

— Aug. 1, 1966: Charles Whitman opened fire from the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, killing 16 people and wounding 31. 


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.) 

Ambassadors for Whom? Occupy Your Merchant Association, 12-11-12 (News Analysis)

By Carol Denney
Tuesday December 18, 2012 - 11:31:00 AM
A group of local activists (and occasional bystanders) joined in song to sing anti-Downtown Berkeley Association Christmas carols in the BART Plaza in an effort to bring awareness to the privatization of public space on Sunday, December 16th, 2012.
Ted Friedman
A group of local activists (and occasional bystanders) joined in song to sing anti-Downtown Berkeley Association Christmas carols in the BART Plaza in an effort to bring awareness to the privatization of public space on Sunday, December 16th, 2012.

Most people think they’re ridiculous, but harmless. They walk around downtown Berkeley in bright lime green shirts identifying themselves as “ambassadors”, a new version of an older program which hit the wall years ago as a kind of homeless patrol doling out “services” to some and calling the police on others. The merchant association claims the “ambassadors” work on making the downtown more welcoming. 

Their green shirts in Berkeley have the logo of the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), which, along with the Business Improvement District (BID), contracts with Kentucky-based Block by Block to execute the program. Block by Block’s slogan is “Safety, cleaning, hospitality and outreach solutions for downtown improvement districts.” Block by Block currently runs 46 programs in cities from Akron, Ohio, to Yakima, Washington. 

What do the “ambassadors” do? They sweep and pick up trash. They clean up graffiti, the definition of which apparently includes anything not officially written by the city or the Downtown Berkeley Association itself, which has the keys to a glass-covered information kiosk by the BART Station for their members’ use alone. If you put up a poster about your missing dog, they’ll tear it down within seconds claiming it’s illegal. They steam wash sidewalks so repeatedly that anyone carrying everything they own is likely to have their few belongings soaked and ruined. But that’s not all they do. 

Block by Block “ambassadors” are not unionized. They’re paid considerably less than city maintenance crews and have fewer if any benefits, so one could argue that they save the city money, albeit at the expense of city workers. But their assignment is wider than picking up the occasional fast food wrapper: “The largest drivers of negative perceptions are frequent low level quality of life crimes. Our ambassadors are a significant part of a proactive safety and security strategy to challenge unwanted activities.”[1] 

Years ago, when Berkeley’s Downtown Berkeley Association changed its name from the Downtown Business Association, it lamented that most merchants were unwilling to call the police and sign formal complaints against “problematic street behavior,” behavior which was not specifically criminal but which they felt might discourage shoppers. They even created signs for merchants with a circle with a line through it over an out-stretched hand in an effort to encourage both merchants and customers to call the police on a special phone number if they saw examples of “problematic street behavior” assumed to depress business. 

The outrage over the public funding of this effort to target the homeless, who are obligated to exist in public and more often the victims of than the perpetrators of crime, eventually gave birth to Berkeley’s Business Improvement District (BID), a private entity which levies an assessment from the property owners within its geographical confines as well as an assessment from the city itself (and thus the public) from public spaces such as plazas. In this way, what was once a public common space becomes a revenue source for the privately run and utterly undemocratic entity, the BID, which then patrols public space and regulates public behavior. 

Business improvement districts began in the 1960’s and are now a worldwide phenomenon. Enabling legislation at the state level sets the stage for the local business improvement districts, according to Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, one of the few groups which has made a specific study of BIDs. Only 51% of the property owners within the district’s confines are required to create a BID, and in some places the threshold is as low as 31%. 

Block by Block’s particular genius was in crafting a program model that could then be plugged into any town’s BID. 

“They have a plan, and the plan is to gentrify downtown and make it like a shopping mall,” states Boden. “They’re self-perpetuating in that they found a funding stream that is pretty fucking limitless.” 

Berkeley’s DBA tried twenty years ago to criminalize panhandling with a law that was first overturned by an outraged public’s referendum, then put on the ballot by a council majority, then passed in the next election by a bare majority of voters, and finally tossed out by the courts as unconstitutional. They probably counted on that same bare majority of voters to pass an anti-sitting law, underestimating both Berkeley voters’ common sense and a small but dedicated group of civil rights defenders. 

The “ambassador” program has had previous incarnations. At one time it was a locally based program that, according to at least one former DBA board member, did occasionally connect homeless people with appropriate services. The decision to outsource it to Block by Block was not, according to the former member, a DBA board decision. The current DBA board tends to be populated more by large property owners than local business owners, and decisions once the province of the board tend today to be made by a smaller, less representative group, according to former staff. 

The current “ambassadors” in the Block by Block model treat the poor on public streets as a nuisance. One “ambassador” was recently seen sweeping repeatedly around the feet of a woman wrapped in a blanket on a bench who had all her belongings with her. He swept immediately to her right, then right under her under the bench itself, then immediately to her left, then under her under the bench again, continuously sweeping inches from her body. It’s safe to suggest that no well-dressed bench sitter would be similarly treated. 

Some of the Block by Block staff was formerly on the street themselves, which the DBA suggests helps establish rapport with poor and homeless people. But the mission, according to former DBA staff, has moved away from connecting people in need with services and toward “moving homeless people out of town,” a mission at considerable odds with developing rapport. Boden says this is not unusual. The mission of a BID, he says, is to create the same atmosphere as a shopping mall. 

“Take that environment and take that kind of control and plop it down in your downtown. That’s what a BID is for,” says Boden. There are seven or eight BIDs in San Francisco. There are 37 in Manhattan. 

If you’re a downtown merchant obligated geographically to pay a fee to the Business Improvement District and you oppose the discriminatory policies aimed at the poor, you can object aloud, of course. You have to be brave enough to weather the potential backlash from the merchant association and participating businesses, some of which might be enthusiastic about relocating the homeless. Business is tough, after all, and the homeless are easier to target than something as nebulous as the economy. The popular narrative that groups of transient youth, panhandlers, and homeless people ruin business is not supported by fact, nationally or locally, but it is the primary narrative you’ll hear from both the DBA and, with the exception of Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson, and Jesse Arreguin, the Berkeley City Council. 

“Ambassadors” are not shy about relocating unwanted groups. It’s their job to engage with people whose “unwanted activities” are not necessarily prohibited by law, but are presumed to depress the vitality of a commercial district, according to Block by Block’s guidelines. It may well be difficult to spend several hundred dollars on an evening of dinner and theater without feeling guilty when you have to pass people living as best they can on the street. But the most guilt-ridden downtown shopper should be revolted by the idea that public streets are being cleared for their personal comfort. Clearing the streets of people in need deprives them of their right to exist in public space, and also deprives the larger community, both wealthy shoppers and the rest of us, of the opportunity to see and respond to human need, to realize its scope and take action. 

The DBA describes transient youth, panhandlers, and homeless people alike as addicted to drugs and threats to public safety, as the failed anti-sitting law (Measure S) campaign literature made clear. The Measure S language criminalized all sitting by everyone between certain hours, even a kid on a curb with an ice cream cone. Questions about the absurdity of this were met with the assurance that the law would not be used against “those” people, raising additional issues of discrimination. But the point remains that demonizing poor and homeless people helps smooth the way for discriminatory laws, discriminatory practices, and a population deaf to honest human need. 

Dr. Davida Coady, director of Options Recovery in Berkeley, defended Measure S’s extreme language without embarrassment on KQED’s Forum show before the fall election, rejecting the idea that anyone sitting on Berkeley’s streets might be just resting for a minute and enjoying the weather. 

The city council, even if motivated to do so, would have little control over a BID, which is a private and privately funded entity. But Berkeley’s ambassador program does get some public funding. The BID goes before the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission in January hoping for $195,000 from the general fund. If Block by Block’s strategic plan is working, there will be a rash of complimentary articles published just before the funding meetings which make the “ambassadors” look like compassionate saints and the Block by Block program seem essential to commercial districts’ success. Most newspapers, strapped for local copy, will print the press releases without question. 

A May 2011 City of Berkeley report on the “Public Commons for Everyone Initiative” describes the “ambassadors” as having made “a marginal change, if any, in the overall quality of life in the Telegraph and Downtown areas.” This may mean a further reduction in funding for the controversial program, or it could mean an even more determined effort to criminalize some other aspect of homelessness now that Berkeley voters rejected the anti-sitting law. 

Those who oppose local efforts to make public spaces the sole territory of well-heeled shoppers need to recognize that as revolting and undemocratic as the local politics of greed-based legislation can be, the local campaigns against the poor are just examples of a national program systematizing those efforts coast to coast. Block by Block may tailor Akron’s program slightly differently than Yakima’s, but the same model is being used nationwide to make sure property owners, often the largest donors to local political campaigns, govern downtown priorities. Berkeley’s Measure S, the most expensive campaign in Berkeley’s history, was funded almost entirely by large property holding companies which play an influential role on the DBA board and whose representatives were, according to a former staff member, inspired by San Francisco’s voters’ passage of Measure L, the San Francisco anti-sitting law. 

Measure S may have been defeated in Berkeley, but the political pressures that created it are alive and well. Should business interests play the largest role in creating legislation? What can a community do after watching over $120,000 in Berkeley wasted trying to convince people that simply sitting down should be a crime, noting that around 40% of Berkeley’s voters supported doing just that? 

Awakening the public and the media to Block by Block’s and BIDs’ tactics are part of what a concerned community needs to do to combat the juggernaut of systematic efforts to attack the human rights of the poor. The other component is leadership that simply refuses to scapegoat the poor, the real victims in both good times and bad. There is a very tangible human cost to allowing greed to play the largest role in our community and our legislative priorities. 





[1] Block by Block program website. 

Stephan Garabed Jarjisian

By Jackie Childers
Tuesday December 18, 2012 - 11:29:00 AM
Stephan Garabed Jarjisian and Jackie Childers along the California Coast
Stephan Garabed Jarjisian and Jackie Childers along the California Coast
Stephan Garabed Jarjisian and his brother Arthur in Big Sur
Stephan Garabed Jarjisian and his brother Arthur in Big Sur
Stephan Garabed Jarjisian in Big Sur.
Stephan Garabed Jarjisian in Big Sur.

Stephan Garabed Jarjisian, or Steve as everyone knew him, was a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. He was known by many students, as he was an graduate instructor for several classes including Animal Behavior and the Psychology of Sleep. He was finishing his doctoral dissertation under the advisement of Dr. Irving Zucker at the time of his tragic death.  

He loved music. He loved playing his guitar on his balcony that overlooked the Bay, and he loved singing. When he whistled, which he did so perfectly, you knew that he was happy in that moment (and he whistled often). He loved listening to Rush, Taj Mahal, Pink Floyd (he once said that “Dark Side of the Moon” was the best album ever recorded), and Miles Davis. Every summer he would go to multiple Phish concerts near his hometown in Philadelphia with all of his friends, whom he cared for so much.  

He loved cooking and had a special talent for creating culinary works of art. He loved fishing here in the Bay as well as down in the Caymen Islands where he spent so much time with friends and family. He loved reading, and especially admired the works of Kurt Vonnegut and Jack Kerouac. He loved watching films; his favorite movie was “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” which he got to enjoy watching on the big screen at the United Artists 7 Theater on Shattuck Ave last fall.  

Steve had a vibrant personality that no one could forget, and everyone that he influenced was inspired by his intelligence, insight and most of all his generosity. He was very compassionate and empathetic towards others, and saw the “good” in everyone he met- most of all he loved life, with all of its trials and errors he still saw the beauty in the world and embraced it. He was so loved and cherished, and those that had the fortune of getting to know him will always remember him and keep his memory alive in their hearts.

Press Release: Nurses to Picket 21 Kaiser Permanente Hospitals Today--
Short Staffing, Especially in ER, Mental Healthcare, Prompts Protest

From California Nurses' Association
Wednesday December 19, 2012 - 08:20:00 AM

Citing inadequate nurse staffing in emergency care, mental health services and other hospital areas, registered nurses and nurse practitioners will picket 21 Kaiser Permanente hospitals from Santa Rosa to Fresno today.  

Picketing at all 21 hospitals will be held from 2 to 6 p.m.  

The RNs and NPs, who are members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, say short staffing has become a chronic problem in Kaiser facilities. 

In addition, RNs charge, Kaiser is too often sending patients home from the hospital prematurely and expecting family members to care for patients who should still be in the hospital.  

Among the problems cited by the RNs are: 

  • Holding patients for up to 23 hours in emergency “observation” units before being appropriately admitted for inpatient care.
  • Persistent understaffing for mental health services which leads to failure to provide timely and appropriate mental healthcare for patients.
  • Short staffing in numerous other departments across Kaiser hospitals including labor and delivery and general medical units.
  • Early discharge of patients who should still be receiving in-patient hospital care.
  • Staffing practices that rely on an overreliance on temporary and travel RNs rather than with permanently scheduled RNs who are committed to their local communities.
Kaiser should admit all patients who need care on a timely basis, and stop the practice of inappropriate early discharges, rather than make decisions based on arbitrary budget goals, say the RNs.  

Long waits for mental healthcare, especially follow up appointments, are especially troubling in the wake of the horrific school shooting last Friday in Connecticut, nurses say. 

Patients often experience lengthy delays in obtaining services, an overreliance on “group therapies,” and frustrating obstacles that push many patients to forgo care or seek treatment elsewhere at their own cost, say the RNs. 

“It breaks my heart to see patients having to wait too long to receive care, or are not able to access care because of the high co-payments that Kaiser is charging them,” said Lauri Hoagland, Nurse Practitioner. “Many of my patients have told me they cut the pills they are prescribed to them in half to make them last longer. We are here today to stand up for our patients.” 

CNA is inviting any patient or family who feels they were wrongly denied care by Kaiser Permanente to e-mail CNA at: nodenialofcare@calnurses.org 

Picketing will occur today from 2 to 6 p.m. at the following locations: 

Sacramento Area 

Roseville Medical Center, 1600 Eureka Rd. 

Sacramento Medical Center, 2025 Morse Ave. 

South Sacramento Medical Center, 6600 Bruceville Rd.  

East Bay 

Antioch Medical Center, 4501 Sand Creek Rd. 

Fremont Medical Center, 39400 Paseo Padre Parkway 

Hayward Medical Center, 27400 Hesperian Blvd. 

Oakland Medical Center, 280 W MacArthur Blvd. 

Richmond Medical Center, 901 Nevin Ave. 

Walnut Creek Medical Center, 1425 South Main St.  

San Francisco/Peninsula 

San Francisco Medical Center, 2425 Geary Blvd.  

South San Francisco Medical Center, 1200 El Camino Real  

Redwood City Medical Center, 1150 Veterans Blvd. 

North Bay/Solano County 

Santa Rosa Medical Center, 401 Bicentennial Way 

San Rafael Medical Center, 99 Montecillo Rd. 

Vacaville Medical Center, 1 Quality Dr. 

Vallejo Medical Center, 975 Sereno Dr. 

South Bay 

San Jose Medical Center, 250 Hospital Parkway 

Santa Clara Medical Center, 700 Lawrence Expressway 

Central Valley 

Fresno Medical Center, 7300 North Fresno St. 

Manteca Medical Center, 1777 W Yosemite Ave. 

Modesto Medical Center, 4601 Dale Rd. 

Press Release: Berkeley Firefighters To Fill Over 800 Holiday Grocery Bags For Seniors

Tuesday December 18, 2012 - 11:35:00 AM

Berkeley Firefighters and dozens of volunteers will be preparing over 800 Holiday grocery bags this Saturday (Dec. 22). The bags will be filled with chickens, fresh fruits and vegetables, and canned food for Berkeley’s elderly, then delivered directly to their homes. 

Organizer Dori Tieu, Interim President of Berkeley Firefighters Random Acts, said this annual event would not be possible without the help of the many individuals from the sponsoring agencies: Berkeley Firefighters Random Acts, Berkeley Firefighters Association, City of Berkeley Fire Department, San Francisco Fire Credit Union, Berkeley and West Berkeley Lions Clubs, and the City of Berkeley. 

This day is also made possible by the efforts of all the volunteers as well as Ashby Plumbing & Heating Supply, Grocery Outlet, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl, and private citizens for their donations and for supplying food at cost. 

“So many seniors in our Berkeley community are in need this Holiday Season,” Tieu said. “There are a record number of people who have signed up to have holiday food baskets delivered. We are very happy and excited to be able to deliver food and provide some cheer in over 800 homes this year.” 

Volunteers will gather at Berkeley Fire Station #2, located at 2029 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94704, beginning at 8:30 a.m., filling grocery bags with food in the apparatus bay. Once the bags are filled, volunteers will begin hand delivering the bags throughout the community all day long.

New: Child Watching at the Y (First Person)

By Tennessee Reed
Saturday December 22, 2012 - 07:53:00 AM

At the YMCA in downtown Berkeley, it is possible to have the monthly membership fee waived if you volunteer four hours per week per month.

I became a member of the Berkeley Y in February of 2003, but I didn’t decide to volunteer there until October of 2010. I was asked to volunteer in Child Watch, where parents leave their kids for a couple of hours while they go work out elsewhere in the building. 

I started volunteering two hours per week on November 7, 2010. It was the first very rainy day of the season and the place was packed. The first three children I took care of were a five month old boy, an eighteen month old girl and a year old girl. Shortly after Thanksgiving I started working there on Thursday mornings for two more hours. I had the help of a lot of the paid staff, most of whom I considered my mentors. They had been at Child Watch from anywhere between ten and twenty years. They had started when their children were small. I enjoyed working with the Sunday staff who were from places such as Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka and Algeria. Thursdays were a different story. My first Thursday, December 3, 2010, started off poorly and things went downhill from there. There were three women who were paid staff, with whom it was hard to maintain a pleasant work environment. They started on the first day, when I was accused of taking a child away from one of them, which wasn’t the case. They all reacted in an angry manner toward me in front of the children and the other staff. 

Over the next year or so, I continued to have problems with these three women due to their criticisms of the way I took care of the kids. When I addressed the problems with my Thursday shift leader and the director of child supervision programs, they were not critical of my behavior or the other staff, explaining away the conflicts by advising, “There are a lot of different personalities. That’s what makes working at Child Watch beautiful.” To my mind this came under the category of a New Age Berkeley style response. 

As I continued to work there, I found out that there was a lot of favoritism practiced by the supervisors, by favoring the paid staff over the volunteers. For example one staff member, whose hobby was photography, took photos of one child, with the permission of a mother, although as I was to learn shortly, it was against Y policy for any staff or volunteers to photograph children who came to Child Watch. In the spring of 2012, for my midterm project, as a student of photography at Berkeley City College, I wanted to make a photography project with various Child Watch children as the subject, of course with their parents’ permission. When I asked the director of the child supervision programs if this was okay, I was told it wasn’t. It didn’t seem right to me that another staff member was allowed to take pictures and post the photographs on the Internet, but I wasn’t. It was just as imbalanced as allowing some paid staff to take care of children outside of the Y, although another Child Watch rule is that no one is to care for children who come to the Child Watch outside of the Y, due to liability related issues, yet I knew this went on, because staff members talked about caring for children outside of the Y in my presence. 

The one woman whom I had the most trouble with exhibited many disturbing behaviors. In late 2010/early 2011, she bragged to the parents and staff about getting into arguments with strangers in public. On September 24, 2011, she stopped talking to me or looking at me all of a sudden when we attended a compulsory all-staff meeting. (I don’t know why she stopped talking or looking at me, as she was communicating with other staff.) When I brought this up, the shift leader told me to wait her silence out. Three months later, when things still hadn’t changed, we agreed to transfer my hours to Friday mornings starting in January of 2012, at a time she would not be working. However our hours did coincide one Sunday in February of 2012, while she was subbing for another staff member. Her ex-husband came into Child Watch and she started a verbal altercation with him in front of their five year old child, the staff and the other children. I had a fifteen-month-old girl in my arms. The shift leader did nothing to stop them so I told them to “take it outside.” They continued their argument. When the shift leader, who is Chinese, told her she was needed at the Child Watch front desk, she replied, “You go do that in China,” a phrase which I had heard her say before, and perhaps was her idea of a joke. A couple of the staff members laughed. This was the woman who had abused her husband in front of everybody, a clear sign of insubordination. 

In June of 2011, the supervisors and shift leaders called peer review meetings. The three women I had problems with, while working at Child Watch on Thursday mornings, got into it with each other verbally. The woman, who six months before had told me I was taking a child away from her, was yelled at by the other two women about how she would take babies away from them and other people. The Thursday shift leader and director of child supervision programs sat there letting them argue with each other. The woman apologized at the meeting to these two women, but that exchange didn’t change her behavior. But at least I learned all of their behaviors were not only directed at me. 

The supervisors told me I was one of the more reliable people volunteering hours at Child Watch and I even often subbed for other volunteers, in addition to my regular four hours. During the summer of 2011, I subbed for one young woman on Wednesdays from 10-2 while she out of the country for two months, so that I was working eight hours per week. We had agreed that she was to cover my shifts in the fall. However that didn’t happen. The volunteer coordinator told me that it was unrealistic for me to expect her to sub for me. 

After that I was very careful about who I would sub for. 

There were other problems that continued to occur. Many staff workers enjoyed talking on the job. Sometimes they would sit in rocking chairs, holding infants in their arms, while talking, and these conversations would even take precedence over their responsibilities to watch over the children. I know this because I often had to supervise five or six toddlers by myself, which meant that I had to make sure they didn’t take each others’ food at the snack table, plus make sure that they were safely playing with toys or on the mini play structure. In general I was the one changing the most diapers, but more so when they got into these conversations. When I brought this up at the Sunday peer review meeting in June of 2011, the director of child supervision programs dismissed their behavior saying, “That’s their culture.” These people were from other countries. 

The director of child supervision programs and the shift leaders had suggested having mini potlucks for all the staff during Child Watch hours. When another staff member and I mentioned that we shouldn’t do anything that would distract us from taking care of the children, or have food in an area where children might be able to get into it, as we were not to offer food to children other than what their parents provided, one of the staff members yelled at us, denying that she was talking with others at any time. Again, the Sunday shift leader and the supervisor did not acknowledge this disagreement. (Note the Y’s Volunteer Coordinator or other administrative personnel above the Child Watch staff never attended these meetings and were rarely seen in the Child Watch space.) Eventually, enough people complained about the potluck scheduling that they decided to have gatherings after Child Watch hours. However, the talking amongst the paid staff while working continued. Actually the volunteers seemed more consistently focused on the children, and this was not the only place Y personnel stood around chatting on the job. In the shallow pool there is so much socializing among untrained lifeguards that the rules of the pool are not enforced, such as making sure everyone takes a shower before entering the pool, and the patrons often have to inform new patrons of the pool etiquette. In the lap pool, swimmers don’t obey the designated speed signs for lanes, and even when the lanes are crowded, lifeguards do not intervene to help resolve the discomfort of swimmers going at different speeds. 

Since I had been complimented for being so reliable, and working so well with the parents and children, I hoped that I would be rewarded by becoming a paid staff member. I filled out the application in the Spring of 2012, only to be told that they weren’t hiring paid staff and wouldn’t be doing any hiring for a while. Even though they didn’t say how long this would be, I decided to bide my time as I really enjoyed being with the children. I enjoyed them smiling at me, hearing them say my name for the first time, watching them paint and draw, and reading books to them. I really liked watching the children grow from infants to toddlers and into two-year-olds. Two year old boys playing with each other is very cute. I also became friendly with some of the parents. 

Another difficulty resulted because of an ongoing problem of some staff not showing up for their shift hours and not arranging to have people cover for them. This problem started in February of 2012 and continued throughout the summer. As a result, in the room for older children, two through seven years, I was frequently left by myself, where I had to supervise the art table, the snack table and the loft, an area like a little apartment where children four and older are allowed to go, but where those younger than four have to have an adult with them. Sometimes there were fifteen to twenty children present in this older children’s area, and always at least ten or so. Even more complicated, if a child needed a diaper changed, I would have to find someone from the front desk to supervise the other children. Meanwhile, even with these attendance numbers, some paid staff remained in the baby area, talking to each other, even when there were only two babies in that area. 

From early March through early April of 2012 I spent a lot of time traveling and I had trouble getting people to sub for me. But when I was there, one staff member, who was working well into her pregnancy, was evidently often not feeling well. She would sit in a chair in the infant and toddlers’ room, in a “woe is me” position, and not do her part in caring for any of the children, including her own six year old, whom she allowed to play roughly, throwing around a large plastic dragon that almost hit a baby in the head, who was resting in my arms. When I asked the older child to be careful, his mother denied that he was doing anything wrong, and continued to sit in the chair. One parent, observing this, was concerned about bringing her own child into the space. So I suggested the staff member’s child and his friend go play in the older children’s room instead of remaining with the infants and toddlers. The child finally left the room when a shift leader showed up and told him to go play with the older children. These problems were “addressed” in our June 3, 2012 all-staff meeting. Nothing really changed in people’s behaviors, however, except that the pregnant woman stopped bringing her older child to work with her. 

In June of 2012, the director of child supervision programs informed the paid staff that due to the cost overruns on the renovations of the Shallow Pool that was closed from September of 2010 until January of 2011, Grace’s Pool that was closed from February of 2011 until August of 2011, (it was supposed to reopen in June of 2011), the downstairs women’s locker room that was closed from August of 2011 until December of 2011, (it was supposed to reopen in November of 2011), and the downstairs men’s locker room that was closed between May of 2012 until August of 2012, plus the regular maintenance of the Lap Pool, both in November of 2010 and May of 2012, (which as a long-term patron, I call the ‘two-year inconvenience’ because the renovations and the corrections for errors made in the renovations-- such as needing to redesign and reinstall the staircase in the shallow pool to accommodate disabled patrons’ needs (so the pool was closed again the entire month of September, 2011)-- the combined changes continued to require the Y’s members to be inconvenienced between the fall of 2010 and the fall of 2012), the Y had gone over their budget and therefore, the paid staff was going to have to accept cuts to their hours and their pay. I am sure this was disheartening to all the paid staff, but it was also disheartening to me because I knew that my becoming a paid staff member in the future went from a slim possibility to a none possibility. Their solution to maintaining adequate coverage was to “hire” more volunteers, as they termed it. But I continued to volunteer anyway, because I did enjoy being with those children and their parents. 

In August of 2012 things took a turn for the worst. Out of the blue my Friday shift leader asked me if I would be willing to phase out of Child Watch and start working with older children in Fit Kids, a program for children ages six to thirteen. My Friday shift leader advised that I was “jeopardizing the other children” by favoring one child over the others. (This did not make sense as all staff, including this shift leader, spoke about their favorites, and they would joke with each other, “So and so your friend is here.”) He said this to me in front of the child and the other children. This was especially weird to me, as I had been praised by him for many months on how well I was taking care of the children. 

The major incident happened in September when I called the front desk and requested that the parents of young babies not be allowed to come into the downstairs women’s locker room because the mothers blocked peoples’ access to their lockers and used the disabled benches as changing tables. The lifeguards would also let them into the shallow pool ten minutes before their swim class was scheduled to begin and they would hover over the adult swim/walk patrons. 

The volunteer coordinator called me the next day. She said the branch director had decided that she couldn’t have someone work in Child Watch that “didn’t like children” and I was not to be invited back to Child Watch. Note I had never met the branch director. Nor had I seen this person anywhere at the Y, including the Child Watch rooms. I believe she was judging something that she knew nothing about. I suspect that there is so much anxiety among the Y staff that any disagreement with the administration, no matter how incompetent, is crushed. 

If she had met me she would have known that I enjoyed the children and that the parents, staff, and some of the shift leaders had often praised me for how well I took care of the children. This happened a week before I went to Jerusalem. The volunteer coordinator had a meeting with me the day before I left for Jerusalem, and she said she felt the branch director was overreacting to my situation because of some other unrelated incident with another volunteer in another department of the Y. She and I hoped that things would turn around when she talked things over with the branch director. However, this did not happen. The day after I returned from Jerusalem turned out to be my last day. The volunteer coordinator had a meeting with me and told me that the branch director would not let me return. She brought up mistakes I had made in the past, such as favoring the baby area over the older children’s area (even though I had made a conscious effort to change, and there were some paid staff and volunteer who regularly favored one area over the other). 

Since my membership fee was waived for volunteering at Child Watch, the volunteer coordinator asked me if I was interested in filing and cutting out Halloween decorations to maintain my hours. Before my trip she had asked if I would like to become a tutor and since I replied I was interested, she said I could start training after I returned. The tutoring option was not mentioned again. I said “no” to the option of filing and cutting out Halloween decorations, so I was told that my membership would expire at the end of September. 

I decided not to return to the Y. I was not able to say goodbye to the staff, parents and children. I wasn’t the only one being punished by the branch director. The staff, other volunteers, parents and children were being punished as well. The best-case scenario is that the branch director didn’t think about that. The worst-case scenario is that she simply didn’t care and was just pretending that she valued customer service. I’m pretty sure that some of the children felt like I abandoned them. The Y, even though it is a non-profit, operates in a very corporate manner. 

I eventually was able to speak with some of the parents who said that they were sorry that I was let go, that I had taken very good care of their children, and that they noticed that there was a lot of turnaround at Child Watch, particularly with the volunteers. One mother said that when she couldn’t get her child to go with her to the Y, if she told him I was going to be there, he was willing to come. Another mother said her child asked to see me, calling my name. During my almost two years of working at Child Watch as a volunteer, several people told me not to let the shift leaders, director of child supervision programs and the volunteer coordinator take advantage of me. I should have listened. 

Tennessee Reed is the author of five books of poetry, most recently, New and Selected Poems, 1982-2011 (World Parade Books, 2012) and a memoir, Spell Alburquerque, Memoir of a “Difficult” Student (Counter Punch and AK Press, 2009) 

Nothing Better to Do Than the Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday December 19, 2012 - 08:11:00 AM
Holiday Fair on Teley, as it concluded Sunday. More rain fell later.
Ted Friedman
Holiday Fair on Teley, as it concluded Sunday. More rain fell later.
Wow in a box, a concept piece. Who says these craftsmen are not artists? When there's light, a lens responds. In rain, the box was dark.
Ted Friedman
Wow in a box, a concept piece. Who says these craftsmen are not artists? When there's light, a lens responds. In rain, the box was dark.
Beau Graeber's concept. The jewelry is "Artisan Handcrafted." But who are the headless models?
Ted Friedman
Beau Graeber's concept. The jewelry is "Artisan Handcrafted." But who are the headless models?

I thought I had better things to do, but that was before I attended the opening day of the fair, and found that there is nothing in the world better to do than the Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair. 

Stage one of Berkeley's thirtieth holiday fair wrapped Sunday, under light rain. 

Saturday, the rain fell hard, and some artists packed up early. 

But more than one artist said that big profits (and perhaps some last minute discounts) await stage two, next weekend, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (Xmas Eve)—as last-minute shoppers panic. 

As one vendor told me, not all concessions lose money in the rain. "There are winners and losers," said Paul Ogren, who is in his second year at the fair with his War to Piece nuclear jewelry. "The jewelry won't explode," Ogren assured; it's sculpted from wires once used to direct nuclear missiles. 

Ogren is a gifted promotor, who has had his fair share of media attention, and sells his designs in major museums throughout the country. 

Across the street from Ogren, I met Fred Rosefeather, who was so excited to be here, he almost broke into an Indian dance. "In San Luis Obispo, an art gallery owner told me, I was too good for San Louie, and said, go to Berkeley." 

Ogren and Rosefeather, neighbors at the fair, didn't know each other in San Louie. 

Long-time fair organizer, Janet Klein, told me that the fair fills yearly with gifted artists, who are steered here by other artists. 

Klein, who has served the fair for a quarter-century—last nine years as the event-organizer—plies the artists with a continuous supply of chocolate cookies, each day. 

She runs a tight ship, settling disputes, and enforcing regulations. 

Saturday, she ejected a vendor, she said violated the regulation requiring that pieces for sale are made by and sold by the artist. This is an important rule, because it gets you close to the artists, who are all entertaining. 

Their glamorous lives are spent going to crafts fairs all over the country, where they develop patter for people like us, and especially reporters. Tell them you are a reporter for the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

Aren't you? 

The event has become a major venue for some of the best artist-craftsmen in the state, and states throughout the West. They flock to Berkeley with their arts from San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles area, the South Bay, the Peninsula, and Marin. 

Berkeley was represented last week by artist Eddie Monroe, a veteran of the holiday event, and founder of the Berkeley Street Vendor's Association, which assigns stalls to Berkeley artists by lottery—each weekend. 

Monroe returned two years ago to selling on the street where he began his career in the 60s; he now exhibits large paintings at the 4th Street Studio, where he also teaches. He tells me his studio paintings are selling well. "I'm at the top of my career," he has told me. 

Although Monroe, who has been painting bay-area scenes for more than forty years, is doing his best work these days, he still sells his iconic Telegraph Ave painting, showing Teley in its glory years, when Teley was mainly small local businesses selling necessities, like locks, clocks, and socks—and barrels of books, and magazines. 

Award-winning scenic photographer, Louis Cuneo, founder of the Berkeley Poetry Festival, is offering his best work at easily affordable prices. If you liked his photos of Aquatic Park published last year in the Planet, you will be glad to know you can purchase the set for $20-25. 

Weather report: Saturday, 50 percent chance of rain; Sunday, 45 percent chance of rain; Monday (Xmas Eve.) partly cloudy, ten per cent chance of rain. 

Last week, an artist was on his phone following the fair (foul )weather by Doppler Radar. 


Ted Friedman writes a "philosophical" sex column, Sex@Cal for Berkeley Reporter.  

Contact him at berkeleyreporter.com@email.com.


The Editor's Back Fence

News Of Interest to Berkeley

Friday December 28, 2012 - 08:39:00 AM

Two articles of interest to Berkeley have appeared in other media over the holidays. We'll have more in this space about these topics in the new year, but these links will keep you abreast of developments.

First, some Southern California developers, aided and abetted by Berkeley's ex-planning director land-use-planning manager Mark Rhoades, husband of Erin Rhoades (honcho of the Livable Berkeley developers' lobbying group) have drawn a bulls-eye on the old Hinks department store building, now home to the thriving Shattuck Cinemas. They propose to demolish much of the historic structure in order to construct a 17-story luxury apartment building, complete with a four-story parking garage. You don't really believe that this is "transit-friendly", do you? Residents of luxury apartments surely will have at least one auto per occupant. Here's a good story from Berkeleyside, complete with links to the promoters' press release.

Carolyn Jones in today's Chronicle covers the on-going story of another demolition in the works, the city of Berkeley's demolition-by-neglect of the Maudelle Shirek Old City Hall, a gorgeous Beaux Arts building which city officials have negligently allowed to decay. Councilmember Jesse Arreguin is determined to reverse the process. Read about it here.


Odd Bodkins: Positive Attitude (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday December 22, 2012 - 12:22:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: You Can't Always Get What You Want (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Tuesday December 18, 2012 - 12:49:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

NRA Shoots Self in Foot and Other Comments

By Jack Bragen
Thursday December 27, 2012 - 08:55:00 PM

Spokespersons for NRA are suggesting that we put armed guards in elementary schools, and that we should crack down (in their words, “adjudicate”) persons with psychiatric illnesses. The idea of bringing armed guards into the public school system seems completely bogus to anyone who can think. 

Persons with mental illness are an easy group to pick on and to blame for the world's ills, since there are very few of us who can speak up. 

Persons on all sides of this debate have forgotten one important point: People already own millions of assault weapons. These existing weapons will still be operable for many years to come—even decades. Simply banning the sale of these weapons would be too little too late. Going house to house to confiscate the weapons isn't practicable—nor would we want such a search. 

The above paragraph outlines one reason why a ban on the sale of assault weapons won't do much. Secondly, if you have a determined individual who is criminally insane, such as were the several twenty-something year old young men responsible for the last several attacks, they will find a way--including in the absence of guns. For example, I have heard that a homemade bomb can be made from readily available materials such as fertilizer. 

Even though there is some truth to the NRA assertion that it won't fix things to ban weapons, (but for different reasons than the ones they are giving) the attitude of their spokespersons has been unmistakeably flippant, provocative, and callous toward the victims of these violent tragedies. I am sure that most gun owners have some sympathy for the victims of these shootings, unlike the NRA spokespersons who have appeared on CNN. 

Concerning persons with mental illness, this is a time when advocates for “Laura's Law” are more vocal. I don't believe this law is a good solution. It attempts to address the issue of medication noncompliance with force, and doesn't deal with the multiple issues we face that we need help with. You are simply forcing drugs on a population that needs to be given some hope of a better life. 

A multi-pronged approach is needed. This would include more restrictions on the sale of weapons, attention to security in schools but without bringing in armed guards, and help being readily available for disturbed individuals


New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: 2012: “Are You Serious?” Awards

By Conn Hallinan
Monday December 31, 2012 - 06:18:00 PM

Every year Dispatches From The edge gives awards to news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of “Are you serious?” Here are the awards for 2012. 

Dr. Strangelove Award to Lord John Gilbert, former UK defense minister in Tony Blair’s government, for a “solution” to stopping terrorist infiltration from Pakistan to Afghanistan: Nuke ‘em. Baron Gilbert proposes using Enhanced Radiation Reduced Blasts—informally known as “neutron bombs”—to seal off the border. According to Gilbert, “If we told them [terrorists] that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there.” 

The border between the two countries is a little over 1,600 miles of some of the most daunting terrain on the planet. And since the British arbitrarily imposed it on Afghanistan in 1896, most the people who live adjacent to it, including the Kabul government, don’t recognize it. 

Baron Gilbert went on to gild the lily: “I am absolutely delighted that nuclear weapons were invented when they were and I am delighted that, with our help, it was the Americans who invented them.” The residents of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were decidedly less enthusiastic. 

Runner up in this category is the Sandia National Laboratories and Northrop Grumman for researching the use of nuclear powered drones that would allow un-piloted aircraft to stay aloft for months at a time. Nuclear-powered drones, like the Reaper and the Predator, would not only be able to fly longer and further, the aircrafts could carry a greater number of weapons. 

This comes at a time when the Obama administration has approved the use of drones in the U.S. by states and private companies. “It’s a pretty terrifying prospect,” Chris Coles of Drone Wars UK told The Guardian. “Drones are much less safe than other aircraft and tend to crash a lot.” Iran recently claimed to have brought down a U.S. Scan Eagle drone and to have fired on a Predator. Last year Iran successfully captured a CIA-operated Sentinel drone. 

Pandora’s Box Award goes to the U.S. and Israel for unleashing cyber war on the world by attacking Iran’s nuclear industry. The Stuxnet virus—designed by both countries—successfully damaged Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, and the newly discovered Flame virus has apparently been siphoning data from Iranian computers for years. 

But the “malware” got out of Iran—what do these people not understand about the word “virus”? —and, in the case of Stuxnet, infected 50,000 computers around the world. Two other related malware are called Mini-Flame and Gauss. 

Iran retaliated this past summer, unleashing a virus called “Shamoon” to crash 30,000 computers in Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. Saudi Arabia provides 10 percent of the world’s oil needs. 

A Russian anti-virus specialist recently told computer expert Misha Glenny that cyber weapons “are a very bad idea,” and his message was: “Stop doing this before it is too late.” 

The Golden Lemon Award has three winners this year, the F-35 “Lightning” fighter, the F-22 “Raptor” fighter, and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The F-35 and F-22 are repeat winners from last year’s awards (it is not easy to cost a lot of money and not work, year after year, so special kudos to the aircraft’s manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman). 

At $395.7 billion, the F-35 is now the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history, and the costs are still rising. It has constant problems with its engine, “unexplained” hot spots on the fuselage, and software that doesn’t function properly. Because the cost of the plane has risen 70 percent since 2001, some of our allies are beginning to back away from previous commitments to purchase the aircraft. Canadians had some sticker shock when it turned out that the price tag for buying and operating the F-35 would be $45.8 billion. Steep price rises (and mechanical problems) have forced Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia to re-think buying the plane as well. If that happens, the price of the F-35 will rise even higher, since Lockheed Martin was counting on U.S. allies to buy at least 700 F-35s as a way to lower per-unit costs. The U.S. is scheduled to purchase 2,457 F-35s at $107 million apiece (not counting weapons). The plane coast $35,200 per hour to fly. 

The F-22—at $143 million a pop—has a major problem: the pilots can’t breathe. When your traveling 1500 MPH at 50,000 plus feet, that’s a problem, as Capt. Jeff Haney found out in November 2010 over the Alaskan tundra. The Air Force had to wait until the spring thaw to recover his body. Since then scores of pilots have reported suffering from hypoxia and two of them recently refused to fly the aircraft. The breathing problems did not stop U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from deploying two-dozen F-22s to Japan, although the planes are restricted to lower altitudes and have to stay no more than an hour and a half from land. That will require the pilots to fly to Alaska, and then hop across the Pacific via the Aleutian Islands to get to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. 

The cost of operating an F-22 is $128,389 a flying hour. In comparison, the average income for a minimum wage worker in the U.S. is $15,080 a year, the medium yearly wage is $26,364, and average yearly household income is $46,326. Dispatches suggests paddling the planes to Japan and raising the minimum wage. 

The LCS is a very fancy, shallow water warship with lots of bells and whistles (at $700 million apiece it ought to have a few of those) with one little problem: “It is not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment,” according to one Pentagon weapon’s tester. Since combat is generally “hostile” that does restrict what the ship can do. And given that cracks and leaks in the hulls are showing up, it might not be prudent to put them in the water. So while it may not work as a traditional ship—floating, that is—according to the LCS’s major booster in the Congress, U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala) “It’s going to scare hell out of folks.” 

Particularly the ones who serve on it. 

The LCS was originally designed to fight Iranian attack boats, but the feeling now is that it would lose in such encounters. But all is not lost. According to Joseph Rella, president of Austal USA, the company in Alabama that builds the LCS, “If I was a pirate in a little boat, I’d be scared to death.” Dispatches suggests that rubber “wolf man” masks would accomplish the same thing for considerably less money. 

The Golden Sow’s Ear Award to U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky) for successfully lobbying the Pentagon to buy an oil drip pan for the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter for $17,000 a throw. The manufacturer, Phoenix Products, is a major contributor to Rogers’ campaigns. A similar product made by VX Aerospace costs $2,500 apiece. But Phoenix does have a strong streak of patriotism: The oil drip pans are discounted from the $19,000 retail price. 

The Misplaced Priorities Award to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party for shelling out $28 million to celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812—including $6.3 million in television ads—while cutting $5.2 billion from the national budget and eliminating 19,200 federal jobs. The cuts have fallen particularly hard on national parks and historic sites. 

Canada was not Canada in 1812, and the war was between the U.S. and the British Empire. Canada did not become a country until 1867. 

The Queen of Hearts Award also goes to Harper and his Conservatives for “streamlining” the process of approving new oil and gas pipelines and limiting public comment. “Limiting” includes threats to revoke the charitable status of environmental groups that protest the pipelines and unleashing Canada’s homeland security department, Public Safety Canada (PSC), on opponents. The PSC considers environmentalists potential terrorists and lumps them in the same category as racist organizations. Dispatches suggests that Harper and Co. study the works of Lewis Carroll on how to sentence first, try later. Saves time and money. 

The Chernobyl Award to the Japanese construction company BuildUp, hired by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to clean up the Fukushima nuclear plant that melted down in the aftermath of last year’s tsunami. A government report found that TEPCO did not issue radiation detectors to most of its workers even though it had hundreds of dosimeters on hand. BuildUp admitted that it had workers put lead plates over the detectors to avoid violating safety thresh holds. 

Teruso Sagara of BuildUp said the company only had their employees’ best interests in mind and thought that “we could bring peace of mind to the workers if we could somehow delay their dosimeters’ alarms going off.” 

The report also cited the government for refusing to use computer projections on fallout from the crippled plant. In one case, two communities were directed into the middle of the radioactive plume. 

The Chicken Little Award to the British government and the International Olympic Committee for approaching the 2012 London Olympics in much the same way the allies did the beaches at Normandy in 1944. The government deployed 13,500 ground troops, 20,000 private guards, plus the Royal Navy’s largest warship, along with armed helicopters, armored personnel carriers and Starstreak and Rapier anti-aircraft missiles. 

According to Linden Empson, Dispatches intrepid reporter on the scene, the announcement that surface-to-air missiles were going to installed on six housing projects in the city were “delivered via a pizza company.” She suggested that was both “terrifying and hysterically funny.” One resident of Fred Wigg Tower told the New York Times that the leaflets “looked like one of those things where you get free pizza though the post, but this was like free missiles.” 

The local residents were not amused and sued to stop the deployment. “Is the government seriously suggesting the answer to potential airborne threat is to detonate it over the city?” a former Royal Artillery officer wrote in a letter to The Guardian. The court eventually ruled against the residents. 

The cost of all this security is close to $900 million at a time when the Conservative-Liberal government is slashing social welfare programs, education, and health care. 

The Selective Reporting Award to the Los Angeles Times for reporting that the Assad regime was using cluster bombs, which “have been banned by most nations.” The newspaper pointed out that more than 100 countries had signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but that Syria did not. 

Quite true. What went unmentioned was that neither did the U.S., Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Israel. According to the Cluster Munitions Coalition, the weapons “caused more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system.” The U.S. also used clusters in Afghanistan. American cluster weapons still take a steady toll of people in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. All of those cluster weapons were made in the USA. 

The most egregious use of clusters in the last decade was by Israel, which spread four million submunitions in Lebanon during its 2006 invasion of that country. According to the UN, one million of those “duds” remain unexploded. 

But the U.S. also uses the weapon on many occasions. In 2009, President Obama ordered a cluster strike in Yemen that ended up killing 44 people, including 14 women and 21 children. And the White House, according to The Independent, “is taking the leading role “to torpedo the global ban on clusters.” The administration argues that clusters manufactured after 1980 have less than a 1 percent failure rate, but anti-cluster activists say that is not the case. The widely used BLU-97, for instance, has a failure rate of 30 percent. 

According to Handicap International, 98 percent of the casualties inflicted by clusters are civilians, 27 percent of those children. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com 


THE PUBLIC EYE: John Boehner’s Failure

By Bob Burnett
Friday December 28, 2012 - 08:20:00 AM

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner is second in line to be President. And since the defeat of Mitt Romney, the Speaker has been the titular head of the Republican Party. While Boehner has political status and power, his inept handling of the fiscal cliff negotiation shows he’s not a leader. He’s a failure. 

There are two explanations for Boehner’s shortcomings. The first is that he may not understand how to negotiate a big deal. 

The definitive book on negotiation is Roger Fischer and William Ury’s 1981 bestseller, Getting to Yes, which elaborates four principles of negotiation. Boehner’s actions regarding the fiscal cliff and the July 2011 debt ceiling crisis indicate he doesn’t honor these. 

1. Separate people and issues: Fischer and Ury noted, “Separating the people from the issues allows the parties to address the issues without damaging their relationship… Nor should one side blame the other for the problem.” Many Congressional Republicans demonize Obama and blame him for most national problems. “Each side should try to make proposals which would be appealing to the other side.” In the fiscal cliff negotiations Obama has tried to make proposals that are appealing to Republicans – for example, his proposal of a chained CPI for Social Security – but Boehner has not reciprocated. 

2. Focus on interests: Fischer and Ury explained, “Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide." No tax increases is the Republican position. It’s based upon the “interest” (belief) that low taxes grows the economy; it’s a fundamental tenet of Reaganomics, the trickle-down theory that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” 

However both Democrats and Republicans want a strong economy and agree that letting all the Bush tax cuts expire would be detrimental. While many Republicans want to continue all Bush tax cuts, Boehner proposed letting taxes rise on those making more than $1 million. But he is unwilling to let a Senate Bill, to let taxes rise on those making more than $250,000, be brought to a vote in the House. 

3. Generate Options: Fischer and Ury suggested several barriers to generating a set of policy options. One Party may prematurely lock in on an option and, therefore, not consider a wide range of alternatives. Many Republicans are unwilling to raise taxes under any circumstances. Another barrier is “the parties may define the problem in win-lose terms, assuming that the only options are for one side to win and the other to lose.” Some Republicans want to deny President Obama any victory, even if it means tanking the economy. 

4. Use Objective Criteria: Fischer and Ury noted, “When interests are directly opposed, the parties should use objective criteria to resolve their differences.” One example of objective criteria is the opinion of the Congressional Budget Office about the consequences of no agreement: 

“Taken together, CBO estimates, those policies will reduce the federal budget deficit by $607 billion, or 4.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), between fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The resulting weakening of the economy will lower taxable incomes and raise unemployment, generating a reduction in tax revenues and an increase in spending on such items as unemployment insurance… Such a contraction in output in the first half of 2013 would probably be judged to be a recession.”
Boehner appears to agree with this, but it hasn’t affected his negotiating style. 

While Boehner is a poor negotiator, his personality provides the best explanation for his weak performance. New York Times writer Matt Bai analyzed the failed July 2011 Debt Ceiling negotiation between Boehner and Obama. Bai observed: 

” Boehner had traveled an idiosyncratic path to the speakership, having never served as a House whip, the pivotal job of corralling and counting votes. He wasn’t much of a closer, either; the more aggressive tactics that “getting to yes” sometimes required didn’t come naturally to him. Boehner seemed to believe that his prestige as speaker would carry the day on key votes, but already that assumption had gotten him into trouble a few times, and other members of his leadership team had little faith in his predictions.”
In both the Debt Ceiling and Fiscal cliff negotiation Boehner precipitously dropped out and then blamed the President. In each case he cut a preliminary deal with Obama, presented it to the Republican members of the House, and saw them reject it. Then Boehner fabricated a story to cover his failure. 

The Speaker took the easy way out. In both instances, Boehner has had the option of presenting his agreement with the President to the entire House of Representatives and submitting it to an up or down vote. Boehner chose not to do this because he isn’t a leader. He’s content to save face and cover his ass. 

John Boehner is a failure. He is responsible for the US falling over the fiscal cliff. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net 

New: ECLECTIC RANT: Is the U.S. Finally Serious About Gun Control?

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday December 27, 2012 - 09:16:00 PM

In his article, "America as a Gun Culture," historian Richard Hofstadter popularized the phrase "gun culture" to describe America's long-held affection for firearms, with many citizens embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America's heritage. According to Hofstadter, the right to own a gun and defend oneself is considered by some, especially those in the South and the Southwest, as a central tenet of the American identity.  

Today in America, a gun is status among too many. That’s why they call it an equalizer. And unfortunately what’s happening today is that everybody is getting more and more equal because everybody has one. 

Given America's gun culture, it is not surprising, but regrettable in my opinion, that the Supreme Court in District of Columbia vs. Heller held that Americans have a Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms." However, this does not mean that federal and state governments cannot pass and enforce gun control laws. In fact, most gun control laws have been found to be valid after the Supreme Court decision.  

Unfortunately, the purchase and possession of guns in the U.S. is largely controlled by hundreds of state and local laws that collectively are inadequate to protect the populace. And American legislators too long have been overly responsive to the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby, in tandem with gunmakers and importers, military sympathizers, and far-right organizations.  

In 2012, 151 people were physically wounded or killed in seven mass shootings. This figure includes the victims of similar but less lethal rampages in a Portland shopping mall, a Milwaukee spa, and a Cleveland high school. A portrait of each of these victims can be found in Mother Jones.  

Was mental illness a factor in these mass shootings? Early reports are that the Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza had Asberger's syndrome, a form of autism, which is considered a developmental disorder, not a mental illness. Asberger's syndrome is not associated with violence. There is no evidence that Lanza had a history of violence or treatment for mental illness or was denied access to treatment. He did not buy the guns in question. Rather, he took the weapons used in the massacre from his mother's gun collection. But the larger question is not whether Lanza was mentally ill, but whether he had a history of violence and anger. The bottom line is that most people who commit violent acts are not mentally ill, and the vast majority of people with a mental illness are no more violent than anyone else. To suggest otherwise tends to stigmatize the mentally ill. 

What's outrageous in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings is that there is now a race to buy semi-automatic weapons in anticipation of a ban on such weapons. According to Bloomberg, for example, Walmart has reportedly sold out of semi-automatic rifles in five states, including Pennsylvania, Kansas and Alabama. 

President Obama has tasked Vice President Joe Biden to lead an inter-agency task force to come up with concrete proposals to address gun violence by January. The NRA has called Biden the "most anti-gun vice president in American history," and has an "F" rating from the pro-gun group for his voting record in the Senate. I take the NRA comment as a good sign that Biden is the right choice to lead the task force. 

Senator Dianne Feinstein said she would introduce an assault weapons ban -- which expired in 2004 -- on the first day of Congress. As Senator Feinstein said on her campaign website: "Who needs these military-style assault weapons? Who needs an ammunition feeding device capable of holding 100 rounds? These weapons are not for hunting deer -- they’re for hunting people." 

Hopefully, the U.S. is finally ready to get serious about meaningful gun control at the federal level. Maybe, the murder of 20 children and 7 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was the "tipping point."

New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Four More Years: The Asia Pivot

By Conn Hallinan
Thursday December 27, 2012 - 08:57:00 PM

In March 1990, Time Magazine titled an article “Ripples in The American Lake.” It was not about small waves in that body of water just north of Fort Lewis, Washington. It was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, embracing over half of humanity and the three largest economies in the world. Time did not invent the term—it is generally attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Pacific commander during WW II—but its casual use by the publication was a reflection of more than 100 years of American policy in this immense area.

The Asia-Pacific region has hosted four American conflicts—the Spanish American War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—and is today the focus of a “strategic pivot,” although that is a bit of a misnomer, by the Obama administration. The Pacific basin has long been the U.S.’s number one trade partner, and Washington deploys more than 320,000 military personnel in the region, including 60 percent of its navy. The American flag flies over bases in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, the Marshall Islands, Guam and Wake.

It is one of the most perilous regions on earth right now, and, for the first since the collapse of the old Soviet Union, two major nuclear powers are bumping up against one another. As volatile as the Middle East is, one of the most dangerous pieces of real estate on the planet are a scatter of tiny islands in the East China Sea, where China, Japan and the U.S. find themselves in the kind of standoff that feels distressingly like the Cold War. 

Tension over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, however, is just one of several foreign policy challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, each with its own characteristics and history. Japan and South Korea are in a faceoff over an island that Tokyo calls Takeshima and Seoul calls Dokdo. Moscow and Tokyo are at loggerheads over the Kurile islands, Beijing is throwing its weight around in the South China Sea, North Korea just launched a long-range ballistic missile (and is possibly considering a nuclear test), and Washington is recruiting allies against China, sometimes by turning a blind eye to serious human rights violations. 

How the Obama administration responds to these issues over the next four years will go a long way toward determining whether the ocean lives up to its name—peaceful—or once again becomes an arena for tragedy. So far the record is not encouraging. 

Washington has stumbled badly in the dangerous crisis over islands that China calls the Diaoyu and Japan calls the Senkaku. The dispute over these uninhabited specks in the East China Sea islands goes back to the Sino-Japan War of 1895 when Tokyo wrested them from Beijing. In 1971, the Americans—caught up in the Cold war and refusing to recognize China— made the whole matter a lot more complex by ignoring two WW II treaties requiring Japan to return its conquests to their original owners, and instead handed the islands over to Japan. 

When China protested, Tokyo and Beijing agreed to kick the can down the road and delay any final decisions on sovereignty to some later date. That all changed when Japan—pressed by rightwing nationalists—purchased three of the islands this past summer and altered the status quo. To make matters worse, the U.S. declared that it would stand by Japan in any military conflict, thus raising the ante from a local confrontation between two Asians giants to a potential clash between nuclear powers. 

China sees the islands as part of its defensive parameter, not an unusual point of view considering the country’s history. China has been the victim of invasion and exploitation by colonial powers, including Japan, dating back to the first Opium War in 1839. Beijing is convinced Washington is surrounding it with potentially hostile alliances, and that the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is part of a U.S. strategy to keep China down. There is an economic dimension to the issue as well. China would like to exploit oil and gas deposits, as well as fishing grounds, in the East China Sea. 

Extending the U.S.-Japan mutual support treaty to the islands is a major mistake. China has no intention of attacking its main Asian trade and investment partner, and putting Tokyo under Washington’s nuclear umbrella around this issue has helped unleash a powerful current of nationalism in Japan. For instance, Tokyo is debating whether to put Japanese Self-Defense Forces on Yonaguni Island in the Okinawa or Ryukyu chain. That would put Japanese troops squarely in the middle of China’s first line of maritime defense. Yonaguni is a long way from Tokyo, but on a clear day you can see the mountains of Taiwan from its beaches. The island’s residents are opposed to the Self-Defense Force deployment. 

The new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been particularly strident, openly talking of dumping Japan’s anti-war constitution and building nuclear weapons. He comes from a long line of military-minded nationalists. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a member of Japan’s wartime cabinet and considered a war criminal. Rather than going to jail, however, Nobusuke was “rehabilitated” after the war and became a prime minister in 1957. Abe has stonewalled demands by China and other countries in the region to apologize for its brutal policies during WW II. 

In an interview with the Financial Times, Abe was asked if there was a “possibility that the two Asian powers could go to war.” According to the Times, “Mr. Abe just smiled and walked away.” 

If that exchange does not give Washington pause, it should. 

China has a strong legal case for ownership of the islands, and rather than rattling sabers, Washington should encourage the UN and the International Court of Justice to get involved. What it should not do is green light the politics of people like Abe, who might draw Washington into a confrontation with China. In 1914 Austria attacked Serbia. Russia mobilized, and Germany, bound by treaty to Austria, followed suit. That ended very badly. 

The disputes in the South China Sea are very different than those in the East China Sea, although some of the actors are the same. Beijing claims that it owns a vast expanse of the Sea, that includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and numerous reefs and shallows, also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, and the Philippines. At stake are rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas deposits, as well as a considerable portion of the world’s trade routes. 

The Chinese have been rather heavy handed in the dispute, refusing to negotiate with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and insisting on bilateral talks instead. China vs. Brunei is hardly a level diplomatic playing field. The standoff has given the U.S. an opportunity to intervene as a “neutral broker,” a posture that has pushed every paranoid button in Beijing. China has responded by stepping up its patrols in the South China Sea, even sabotaging joint Indian-Vietnam oil exploration near the Paracels. New Delhi—which has its own tensions with China over its northern border—is threatening to send naval vessels into the disputed area. 

The crisis is solvable, but a few things need to happen. 

China must back off, because its current claim violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. A place to start is for ASEAN and Beijing to work out a “code of conduct” to resolve disputes peacefully. But Washington should stay out of this fight. Given the strong military component of the “pivot,” one can hardly blame China for assuming that U.S. involvement is not aimed at resolving disputes. 

“If you are a strategic thinker in China, you do not have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the U.S. is trying to bandwagon Asia against China,” says Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. 

Washington has shifted naval forces into the Pacific and is in the process of putting 2,500 Marines in northern Australia. While 2,500 Marines are hardly likely to tip the balance of power in Asia, it seems an unnecessary provocation. The U.S. is moving air power into the region as well, including B-1 bombers, B-52s, and F-22 stealth fighters. In early November, 47,000 U.S. and Japanese forces carried out joint military exercises. 

Washington is also re-negotiating its Mutual Support Treaty with Japan, which will include the deployment of an advanced anti-missile system (ABM). The ABM is ostensibly directed at North Korea, but China is unhappy because it could pose a threat to Beijing’s modest nuclear missile force. In general, ABM systems are destabilizing, which is why the ABM Treaty was negotiated between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1972. The Obama administration should repudiate the Bush administration’s 2002 scrapping of the ABM Treaty and instead focus on ridding the world of nuclear weapons, a promise made in 2008 but ignored ever since. 

North Korea may be a threat to its own people, but it hardly poses a major danger to the U.S. or its allies, South Korea and Japan. Yes, the country has nuclear weapons, but any use of them would be tantamount to national suicide, and the North Koreans have always shown a strong streak of self-survival. What about the shelling of the South Korean island and the sinking of a South Korean warship? Certainly dangerous acts, but the North does have legitimate grievances over how its coastal waters were divided after the Korean War, and, while Pyongyang probably sunk the ship, there are some doubts. If North Korea seems paranoid, it is partly because each year the U.S., South Korea, and sometimes Japan, carry out war games aimed at intervening in the advent of “instability” in the north. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta threatened North Korea with nuclear weapons last year, hardly a strategy to get the Pyongyang regime to give them up. 

North Korea mainly serves as an excuse for Japan and the U.S. to militarize the North Pacific and expand their ABM system. But it is a poor, backward country that has trouble feeding its own people. Hollywood’s latest version of the 1950s anti-communist classic, “Red Dawn,” features North Korean paratroopers invading Alaska. Really. 

The White House should take a big deep breath, ignore the bombast, stop threatening North Korea with nuclear weapons, retire the war games, and restart aid programs. The only people hurt by the aid cutoffs are poor North Koreans. 

Washington sees Indonesia is a potentially valuable ally in the alliance against China, as well as a source of valuable raw materials, and has thus given Jakarta a free pass on its human rights record. But for an administration that trumpets its support for democracy and says it has a moral view of the world, that real politique is unacceptable. The U.S. should finally own up to its role in the 1965 Indonesian coup that killed up to a million communists, leftists, trade unionists, and progressives. It should also halt all military aid to the Jakarta regime until the Indonesians prosecute those who committed atrocities in East Timor and West Papua. The U.S. should have nothing to do with training Kopassus, the Indonesian Special Forces unit that organized many of the East Timor massacres and is currently trying to crush an independence movement in West Papua. 

Some of the White House’s actions have bordered on the petty. The U.S. is organizing an 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact that was designed to exclude China, the big dog on the Asian-pacific block. In retaliation, China is encouraging the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that will exclude the U.S. 

The U.S. is a Pacific power, but Asia is a very different place than it was two hundred years ago. You can’t dispatch “Chinese” Gordon and a couple of gunboats and get your way anymore. Nor can you deal with rivals by building alliances a’ la Cold War and threatening to use force. The world is too small, Asia is too big, and war would be catastrophic. The Pacific is no one’s “lake,” but an ocean vast enough for all. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com 


New: Can America Curb Gun Violence?

By Bob Burnett
Saturday December 22, 2012 - 08:01:00 AM

While Americans were horrified by the murders of 26 innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, many believe we lack the will to curb gun violence. Two years ago a crazed gunman severely wounded Representative Gabrielle Gifford and killed six others; we grieved for a few days and then returned to business as usual. Most Americans hope President Obama’s speech at the Vigil for Sandy Hook Shooting Victims portends real change. 

What was noteworthy was the way Obama framed gun violence. Instead of railing against it in the abstract, he linked it to “caring for our children.” “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children – all of them – safe from harm?” 

The President named each of the 20 murdered first-graders and asked, “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?’ He shifted the terms of the gun violence debate from restriction of second-amendment rights to protection of our children. 

Sadly, there’s a long history of horrific gun violence followed by noble words and then congressional inaction. Mother Jones Magazine reports, “Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii.” The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has a 39 page document of “Major School Shootings in the United States since 1997.” The Center for Disease Controlreports there are 32 US gun-related homicides each day. 

We are a nation of gun owners, ”There are 89 guns for every 100 civilians… That amounts to roughly 270 million guns owned nationwide, far and away the highest gun ownership rate in the world.” 

In his December 19th press conference the President indicated his plan to reduce gun violence. 

1. Tie gun violence to protection of our children

2. Renew the ban on assault weapons and multiple-round ammunition magazines. Passed by Congress on Sept. 13, 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban prohibited the manufacturing of 18 specific models of semiautomatic weapons, along with the manufacturing of high-capacity ammunition magazines that could carry more than 10 rounds. The ban expired in September 2004 when the Bush Administration did not support its renewal. Senator Dianne Feinstein has pledged to reintroduce the bill when the new Congress opens on January 3rd. 

3. Expand background checks on gun transactions. In 1993, President Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that mandates background checks on firearms purchasers. The Act establishes the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database for individuals who are banned from purchasing firearms. Although the Brady Act has broad support it has several defects. First, many states and federal agencies have not submitted mental health records to the system. Second, the act only covers purchases from federally licensed dealers. “Unfortunately, 40 percent of firearm acquisitions are from individuals who are not licensed gun dealers and do not undergo any background checks.” Third, the database does not include “individuals on the federal government’s watch list of terror suspects.” 

4. Improve mental health services. One of the problems with the current system is that it often does not encounter the dangerously mentally ill until it is too late. Speaking on the PBS News Hour, Dr. Katherine Nordal, from the American Psychological Association, observed 

”At the root of a lot of the problems with violence in this country and the victims of violence are unmet mental health needs… [We] need to be able to better identify youth who are at risk to later develop mental health problems. We need better prevention programs in schools... We need school psychologists that are doing something other than testing children for special education classes that can work with teachers and administrators and families to identify young people that are developing problems... We need better-funded university counseling centers. And we need… better access to mental health treatment.
President Obama said, “We’re going to need [to make] access to mental health at least as easy as access to a gun.” 


5. Crack down on violence in the media. President Obama acknowledged, “We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that, all too often, glorifies guns and violence.” Many observers connected the Newtown killings to violence in the media: movies, music, television, and video games. What’s not mentioned often enough is the increased amount of violence in public discourse. On December 17th, gun lobbyist Larry Pratt observed that Americans need assault weapons to protect themselves from government intrusion. It’s the kind of comment that feeds the background paranoid buzz in our society, the notion that the US is going to turn into a totalitarian state. We need to fine any public figure that preaches such rubbish. 

What’s clear is that America has to change and President Obama is willing to lead this effort. “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children – all of them – safe from harm?” 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net 





By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday December 20, 2012 - 10:03:00 AM

Think back to 1971 and Klute. It succeeded because of Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels, a gritty needy call girl who, through psychoanalysis and a relationship with a detective, develops strength to begin a different life. Fonda was thirty-two years old. Nine years later, in Nine to Five, she snapped out of sweet Judy Bernley’s diffidence with the memorable “You’re a sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot!” Try saying it fast. There were other brilliant performances – Julia, Coming Home, and The Dollmaker readily come to my mind. But recently, Jane Fonda has sold her name to things not worthy of her talent, for example, Georgia Rule (2007) and Monster-in-Law (2005).

Now Jane Fonda is seventy-five years old.

And if we all lived together? (Et si on vivait tous ensemble?) is a 2011 French-German comedy film. It asks the usually-unspoken, senior citizens’ what if question. Instead of risking nursing homes, or housing projects, or so called assisted living, or being alone, or other ghastly unknowns, what if we all lived together, instead? Of course there’s an assumption or two or three in there. Number one is that one of us will always be willing and able to care and cope.  

Two old, married couples (Fonda + Pierre Richard and sixty-eight year old Geraldine Chaplin + Guy Bedos) have responded by choosing to live together in their own Parisian home. Their womanizer, never- married chum (Claude Rich) and an anthropologist doing some action research (Daniel Brühl) move in with them. There’s also a dog. That’s the filmic set-up. The rest is sérieux fun… Jeanne (Fonda), a former philosophy professor, observes, “It’s strange. We plan for everything. We insure our cars, our homes. We even insure our lives. But we don’t give a thought to our final years.”  

Writer-director Stéphane Robelin is no chicken himself. One reviewer called it “a dour Gallic comedy.” And indeed, the usual things associated with age, aging (ageing, British spelling), and ageism have been built in: e.g. forgetting the running bathwater, severe illness courageously hidden, dementia, Viagra, coffin shopping, cancer. The Boston Globe notes that “Aging isn’t for sissies in France, either, especially for men.” With English subtitles, it is released in the U.S. as All Together. Fonda does indeed speak French. And she looks and sounds mahvelous! Al fin!  


The Golden Palm is the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, presented to the director of the best feature film. In 1955, the first Palme d'Or was awarded to Delbert Mann for Marty. As of 2012, Jane Campion remains the only woman to have won the Palme d'Or. 

Many viewers wonder why Michael Haneke's film, Amour, with its dying, aging, happily married, demented elderly characters, won the Palme d'Or. Perhaps they are uncomfortable with its end-of-life subject-- “a grim anatomy of elderly debility and dementia, complete with incontinence, forced feeding and the eventual stench of putrefaction,” as one reviewer puts it as he lauds “Haneke's unsparing quest for the truth about the way we live and die.” 

Octogenarians Georges and Anne are retired music teachers whose daughter lives abroad with her family. When Anne suffers a stroke and is left paralyzed on one side of her body, the couple’s abiding love for each other is put to the test as Georges attempts to care for her at home. 

Amour was released in November and opened nationally on December 19. 

And finally, in descending order. The Stand Up Guys are played by seventy-eight year old Alan Arkin, Al Pacino at seventy-two, and Christopher Walken, sixty-nine. The appeal seems to be that three shallow characters are still alive, having fun raising hell despite being old. Former partners in crime reunited. Aging is literally an R-rated state of mind. And yes, of course, Viagra plays a part.  



Caregivers view elderly consumers as "old" when they can no longer perform everyday activities of “consumption” independently [purchasing, producing] regardless of their actual age. Activities such as shopping, preparing meals, doing housework, going to the doctor, taking medications, and managing money serve as a means of identifying someone as old and as venues for working through conflicts that arise when an older consumer who does not identify as old is treated as an “old person” by family members and service providers. When Michelle Barnhart (Oregon State University) and Lisa Peñaloza (Bordeaux Management School) drew on in-depth interviews with consumers in their late 80s, their family members, and paid caregivers, they found that participants viewed someone as “old” when that person consumed in ways consistent with society’s concept of old people, and not simply when she or he experienced inabilities that come with increased chronological age. The study will be published in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research

Sonoma County has implemented state-mandated lower pensions and benefit formulas for new hires. For public safety workers, maximum formula is 2.7% of salary for every year worked at age 57. For all other workers, 2.5% at age 67. (Current maximum formulas: 3% at 50 for public safety; 3% at 60 for all others). The changes, most of which do not require labor's approval, are expected to help curb rising taxpayer costs. 

Public libraries here and abroad are making The Gift of Reading to senior citizens. The New York Public Library and other libraries are working with older people to help them navigate tablets and computer software. Senior citizens see better with tablets’ adjustable type sizes. Reading becomes easier again. Based on tests conducted with 66 adults age 50+: older people read faster when using an iPad, compared to a newspaper with the same 10-point font size. When the font was increased to 18 points — easy to do on an iPad (as well as on my pc!) — reading speed increased to 137 words per minute. 

Retirees’ volunteer hour$ are worth billion$. Adults age 65+ volunteered 1.7 billion hours last year, in effect donating more than $37 billion, based on a $21.79 per hour value, a standard used by the volunteer sector. Older Americans may not have the highest rate of volunteering—that honor goes to middle-aged working parents—but in terms of time donated, they lead. Baby boomers, currently aged 48 - 66, who volunteered in 2011 did so for a median of 52 hours each, while volunteers aged 65+ donated 92 hours each, on median, according to an annual study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, based on a U.S. Census survey of 100,000 people. Religious and social or community-service organizations were seniors’ top two volunteer organizations in 2011. The top four activities boomers and seniors said they engage in were fundraising (or selling items to raise money); collecting, preparing, distributing or serving food; general labor or transportation; and professional or management assistance. Volunteer rates vary dramatically by state: Utah topped the nation, and New York ranked lowest. With 26% of residents volunteering, California ranked 37. http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/ 

ECLECTIC RANT: A Woman's Place is in Combat Too

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday December 20, 2012 - 09:57:00 AM

The ban on women in combat in ground combat units is one of the last vestiges of sexism. Under the guise of protecting the "weaker" or "fairer" sex, the armed forces discriminate against women by deniying them the perks of serving in combat positions. 

Women constitute 14 percent of active duty personnel. They are prevented from serving in more than 238,000 positions, including all infantry positions, are excluded from some training schools, and their chances for promotion and veterans' benefits are limited. Yet, 85 percent of female personnel deployed after September 11, 2011 were sent to a combat zone and many were involved in combat operations. Let's face it, there are no front lines and few safe places in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

In Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57 (1981), the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the male-only draft under the Military Selective Service Act and held "the Act's registration provisions do not violate the Fifth Amendment. Congress acted well within its constitutional authority to raise and regulate armies and navies when it authorized the registration of men and not women."  

Since the Rostker decision, sections 8539 and 6015, of title 10, U.S.C., which prohibited the assignment of women to aircraft engaged in combat and vessels engaged in combat (except aviation officers assigned as part of an air wing or other element) have been repealed. However, Section 652, of title 10, U.S.C., enacted after this repeal, makes it clear that Congress is the final decider as to whether women can serve in combat positions. 

Congress repealed the combat exclusion laws in the January 1994 National Defense Authorization Act, but requires the services to submit proposed changes to existing assignment policy to Congress for review.  

However, pursuant to a Department of Defense (DoD) memorandum, dated January 13, 1994, women are still restricted from assignment to units below the battalion level whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat.  

Congress established the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) as part of the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act. The commission's task was to evaluate and assess policies that provide opportunities for promotion and advancement of minority members of the armed forces. On March 15, 2011, the MLDC recommended that the prohibition on women serving in combat roles be removed using a "time-phased approach."  

In its February 2012, report to Congress, following the MLDC recommendation, the DoD recommended that: "Eliminate the co-location exclusion from the 1994 [DoD] policy." However, the report cautioned that "changes to DoD’s policies will require time to implement fully. There are serious practical barriers, which if not approached in a deliberate manner, could adversely impact the health of our Service members and degrade mission accomplishment. Change of this magnitude requires sufficient time and resources." 

In the past few years, a number of lawsuits have been filed arguing implicitly that the DoD is dragging its feet on opening up combat positions to women. And that excluding women from combat positions and other positions solely on the basis of sex violates the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For example, in Hegar v. Panetta, plaintiffs Major Mary Hegar, served in the U.S. Air Force and her aircraft was shot down in Afghanistan; Captain Zoe Bedell, a Marine Corps officer served twice in Afghanistan; First Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, a Marine Corps officer, served in Afghanistan; and Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hund, U.S. Army Reserves, served both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each was disadvantaged because, although they served in combat zones, were unable to serve officially in combat jobs. See the full profile of these plaintiffs.  

Why is the DoD taking so long to open up combat positions to women? Other countries have done so with little or no difficulty. A 2010 survey by the British Ministry of Defense listed Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden as countries that allow women in "close combat roles," defined as "engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile forces personnel." Australia joined the list in September 2011 when it opened its front-line units — including one of the largest contingents in Afghanistan — to women. 

Today, military service is voluntary. Both men and women who join the military should be able to choose a combat job. The criteria for selection to a combat job should not be based on a person's sex but whether the person is qualified, capable, competent, and able to perform the job. Nothing more, nothing less. When a woman is properly trained, she can be as tough as any man. 

Arts & Events

The Central Park Five: The Tortured Confessions behind the 'Wilding' Hoax-- Now playing at the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley

By Gar Smith
Tuesday December 18, 2012 - 11:51:00 AM
Korey Wise, a child forced to confess to a crime he did not commit.
Korey Wise, a child forced to confess to a crime he did not commit.

If you think Bradley Manning is getting a bum rap (and he is), consider the case of the Central Park Five. 

In 1989, five Black and Latino teenagers were tried as adults and convicted of a savage attack on a white female jogger in Central Park. While other horrific crimes were committed in Manhattan the same week, it was this single interracial crime that became the "crime of the century" as the nation became transfixed by a threatening new term for out-of-control teen violence -- "wilding." 

The press derided the five young boys as a "teen wolf pack," "savage beasts," "mutants," "sociopaths." The vitriol was understandable. After all, the boys all signed written confessions and described their roles in the attack in a series of videotaped interviews. 

There was only one problem. They were all completely innocent. (It was only after the boys had served 6- and 13-year prison sentences that Matias Reyes, a serial rapist, confessed to the crime.) 

Boyhoods Interrupted 

Leaping adroitly from the tube to the big screen, TV documentarian Ken Burns reveals a sordid story of police corruption, public betrayal and personal suffering targeting "the most endangered species in America – the young, black man." 

This exceptional, nuanced and emotional documentary challenges the comforting assumption that we inhabit a "post-racial" America. Throughout this gripping, 119-minute film, Burns' respect for The Five is both palpable and profound. His on-camera interviews are compelling and emotional. 

After a visual prelude of striking photographs that capture the grit and poverty of the Harlem of the '70s and '80s, Burns introduces the five – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam. On screen, Salaam, Richardson and Santana are surprisingly wry, smart and articulate. Kevin, while not articulate, is emotionally exposed, frail and touching. 

Throughout the film, the interviews with the men (now in their 30s) are intercut with photos and film clips when they were children, boys and, finally, criminal suspects served up on the evening news. What's missing is the void between their youth and the painful reality that is their legacy as wounded, struggling adults. 

A Fateful Night in the Park 

A crowd of around 25 teens headed to Central Park to hang out. It was just "guys horseplaying -- jumping on each others' backs, beating each other up. Just horseplaying." But at some point, a few of the teens started throwing rocks, harassing passersby and "beating up a homeless guy … really bad." After watching a man bashed in the head with a beer bottle, the boys decided to head home. "The only crime I committed that night was I hopped the turnstile," one man tells Burns. 

Tears well up in his eyes at the memory of being tackled and manhandled by the cops who responded to the disturbance. "I'd never been arrested: Never had handcuffs on me." 

The kids were expecting to be released after being booked on a charge of "illegal assembly" but, at 1:30AM, a woman was found in the park -- near death, partially disrobed and suffering from a skull fracture. 

New charges filed. 

Vengeance and the Specter of 'Wilding' 

The attack provoked a media frenzy that inflamed the public, provoking both fear and anger. An NYPD official rushed to assure the press and the public: "We believe these five youths… were responsible." 

He chose his words wisely: He did not "we have evidence to believe the boys were involved." In fact, there was no evidence. No signs of struggle, no DNA matches, nothing that even tied the five to the time or location of the incident. 

So why did five young men confess (both in signed statements written in longhand and in videotaped interviews with investigators)? This is where The Central Park Five earns its stars. 

Why Do Innocents Confess? 

After listening to the candid recollections of The Five as they unburden themselves before Burns' camera, you'll never again accept a police confession at face value. 

We now know the kids were subjected to 14-30 hours of stressful police interrogations complete with shouts, verbal threats and physical abuse that amounted to psychological torture. "There was no food, no drink, no sleep and I didn't know when it was going to end." 

Eventually the cops told the terrified, exhausted boys: "Your friends have all confessed and named you." It was a lie but it had the desired effect. "I figured: they did it to me; I'll do it to them." "I made stuff up." Told they would be allowed to go home if they "told the truth," the boys struggled to make up stories. When their descriptions didn't match reality, the cops coached them to change their stories to be more "believable." 

Turning away from the camera and cringing at the sexually explicit details of his "confession," one of the Five tells Burns: "A 14-year-old boy doesn't talk like this. I was crying. [The cop] said: 'Don't worry. You did good. Everything's gonna be alright. I said it 'cause they told me to so I could go home." 

A Reign of Righteous Injustice 

The boys were bullied; convinced not to demand their right to legal counsel and placed before a videocamera. Videotape rolled and their fates were sealed. As one of the many officials interviewed by Burns observes: "Confessions will trump DNA [and even] change witnesses testimony…." 

Burns interviews the single juror who pointed out irreconcilable errors in the five different "confessions." After suffering the angry abuse of his fellow jurors, he finally decided to vote for conviction "just to get out of there." 

The woman who had been attacked made an amazing recover. Even though she had no memory of the attack, the prosecution put her in the witness stand. When the young woman grabbed the witness stand to steady herself, it was clear there was no way these young men were going to be freed. 

The prison experience was searing. "I had to grow up really fast." "I saw people dying over cigarettes." "Why me? I cursed God out a couple of times. My faith was gone." 

The Aftermath of Stolen Lives 

In one remarkable scene, Burns plays Mathias Reyes' confession tape for the Five. We watch a complexity of emotions play across their faces as they hear his words for the first time. 

The public was finally informed that the DNA from the crime scene matched Reyes. Reyes describes details of the assault that no one else could have known. Nonetheless, after the acquittal of the five innocent men, the NYPD investigated itself and found no grounds for complaint. The fog of "institutional protectionism" continued to spread over Manhattan as prosecutors, the press and much of the public refused to accept the dismissal; refused even to accept the facts. 

Left behind are five middle-aged men who lost their youth, were thrown into the lion's den of prison and now face damaged futures where "a huge gap of your life has been taken away from you." 

In 2003, the Central Park Five filed a lawsuit against NYC but, as Burns informs us, "the lawsuit remains unresolved."

Film Review: Rust and Bone: A Love Story with Blood and Bruises

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Tuesday December 18, 2012 - 11:37:00 AM
Schoenaerts and Cotillard
Schoenaerts and Cotillard
Mayhem Rules in Rust and Bone
Mayhem Rules in Rust and Bone

Opens December 21 at the Embarcadero and Sundance Kabuki Theatres in San Francisco

Opens January 11 at Berkeley's Shattuck Theatre

Director Jacque Audiard's uncompromising new film, Rust and Bone, has a unique look and feel. The film begins with mesmerizing images of faces and forms flashing and fading in a daze of light and shadow — like tossed playing cards briefly glimpsed as they tumble past your eyes. The effect creates a sense of uncertainty that suggests a disquieting moral: "There are tides in life that draw us in unknowable directions. We are not in control of our fortunes. We can only influence — and sometimes rise above — the rubble of life's turbulence but we are never free and independent." 

Audiard has described his cinematography as "expressionist," explaining that he wanted "the power of stark, brutal, clashing images in order to further the melodrama." He succeeds. 

Rust and Bone was inspired by a roughhouse collection of short stories by American writer Craig Davidson. Audiard, a great fan of Davidson's writing, kept the grit and danger of the original tales but transformed two of Davidson's stories into a new mash-up that amazed even the author. Audiard also added something that was lacking in Davidson's original stories — a love interest. 

Co-stars Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts strip themselves bare (figuratively and literally). When it comes to Oscar nominations Cotillard and Schoenaerts both deserve a nod but Cotillard (who dazzled screengoers with her 2007 breakout role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose) has a leg up on the competition. (Or maybe that should be two legs off.) 

In the most accomplished example of film manipulation since Gary Sinese lost his limbs in Forest Gump, Cotillard spends most of her screen time with her legs missing from the knees down. (It's astonishing to watch as Cotillard drags herself across a floor, the stumps of her severed legs moving in and out of focus. Or watching as she swims through the ocean with her amputated limbs visible through the chop and wobble of the waves.) 

When Stéphanie (Cotillard) first encounters Ali (Schoenaerts), it is anything but the typical Hollywood "meet cute." Their encounter occurs in a crowded dance club where Stéphanie has been knocked to the floor with a bloody nose. Ali, one of the club bouncers, comes to her aid. Before parting, he hands her his phone number. (No big thing: Ali is not interested in attachments, only casual sex. He picks up women with the same sense of entitlement that he grabs drinks from his sister's refrigerator.) 

We discover that, when Stéphanie's not pushing the envelope in the club scene, she can be found at a French Marineworld where she sends killer whales leaping out of the water with a self-confident flick of her wrist. One day, however, something goes terribly wrong and it happens just the way it would happen in real life — you don't see it coming and you don't exactly see what hit you. There's just something sudden, unexpected and overwhelming. Followed by stunned silence and an unconscious body bleeding underwater. 

Stéphanie awakens to a shattered world. Confined to a wheelchair, she spirals into isolation, self-loathing and despair. When she reaches out to Ali, he literally places her burdens on his powerful shoulders. He carries her to a nearby beach where, buoyed by the waves, she reclaims her physical independence by swimming away from the shore (turning her back on the world of the walking). Feeding off Ali's physical strength, Stéphanie regains the courage to plunge back into life. Stéphanie's recovery will eventually lead to a wonderful moment where she returns to the orca tank, stands alone in silhouette before the a large transparent wall, and taps her hand on the glass. What happens next is everything you would hope for. It's pure magic. 

Ali is an exasperating character (and the fact that he is so borderline unlikeable is a credit to Schoenaerts' skill as an actor). He is a self-absorbed Alpha-male, shoving his way through life on a diet of alcohol and testosterone. When he's not boxing, jogging or shagging the next available strumpet, he's sitting in front of a TV analyzing kickboxing videos. 

Ali is struggling financially. He's on the move and he's been forced to crash at his sister's house. Adding to his burdens is Sam, his young son, who needs more attention than his father is willing to grant him. When Ali's sister tells him to "watch Sam" while she's gone, you just know Ali's going to ignore the boy and trouble will follow. 

Despite the odds, Ali and Stéphanie begin to bond (good news for fans of amputee sex fantasies). As Ali's career as a street-fighter begins to gain traction, Stéphanie (now nick-named "Robocop" and swaggering about on prosthetic metallic legs) becomes a fight organizer at these orgiastic, back-ally battles where muscled men strip to their waists and pummel each other until blood and money begin to flow. 

Stéphanie's motherly concern for little Sam transfers to Ali who begins to drop his emotional armor and starts behaving like a parent. But one day on a frozen lake, a moment's inattention (which is guaranteed to send a shiver of apprehension down a viewer's spine) will lead to a parent's worst nightmare. 

Throughout the film, people bleed and people weep but, at the end, these people come to need each other and their bond is rewarded (in a closing scene that is so pat, it could almost pass as a dream sequence). Rust and Bone concludes with an indelible bit of information about the human body: While most broken bones will heal and often become stronger, the 27 bones in the human fist are fragile — once they've been fractured, they will carry the memory of that pain forever.